531 U.S. 98 (2000), 00-949, Bush v. Gore

Docket Nº:No. 00-949
Citation:531 U.S. 98, 121 S.Ct. 525, 148 L.Ed.2d 388, 69 U.S.L.W. 4029
Party Name:BUSH et al. v. GORE et al.
Case Date:December 12, 2000
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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531 U.S. 98 (2000)

121 S.Ct. 525, 148 L.Ed.2d 388, 69 U.S.L.W. 4029

BUSH et al.

v.

GORE et al.

No. 00-949

United States Supreme Court

December 12, 2000

Argued December 11, 2000

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA

Per Curiam.

Syllabus

On December 8, 2000, the Florida Supreme Court ordered, inter alia, that manual recounts of ballots for the recent Presidential election were required in all Florida counties where so-called "undervotes" had not been subject to manual tabulation, and that the manual recounts should begin at once. Noting the closeness of the election, the court explained that, on the record before it, there could be no question that there were uncounted "legal votes"— i. e., those in which there was a clear indication of the voter's intent—sufficient to place the results of the election in doubt. Petitioners, the Republican candidates for President and Vice President who had been certified as the winners in Florida, filed an emergency application for a stay of this mandate. On December 9, this Court granted the stay application, treated it as a petition for a writ of certiorari, and granted certiorari.

Held:

Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet 3 U.S.C. § 5's December 12 "safe-harbor" date would be unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause, the Florida Supreme Court's judgment ordering manual recounts is reversed. The Clause's requirements apply to the manner in which the voting franchise is exercised. Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, Florida may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person's vote over that of another. See, e. g., Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 665. The recount mechanisms implemented in response to the state court's decision do not satisfy the minimum requirement for nonarbitrary treatment of voters. The record shows that the standards for accepting or rejecting contested ballots might vary not only from county to county but indeed within a single county from one recount team to another. In addition, the recounts in three counties were not limited to so-called undervotes but extended to all of the ballots. Furthermore, the actual process by which the votes were to be counted raises further concerns because the court's order did not specify who would recount the ballots. Where, as here, a court orders a statewide remedy, there must be at least some assurance that the rudimentary requirements of equal treatment and fundamental fairness are satisfied. The State has not shown that its procedures include the necessary safeguards. Upon due consideration of the difficulties identified to this point, it is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance

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with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work. The court below has said that the legislature intended the State's electors to participate fully in the federal electoral process, as provided in 3 U.S.C. § 5, which requires that any controversy or contest that is designed to lead to a conclusive selection of electors be completed by December 12. That date is here, but there is no recount procedure in place under the state court's order that comports with minimal constitutional standards.

772 So.2d 1243, reversed and remanded.

Theodore B. Olson argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief were Douglas R. Cox, Thomas G. Hungar, Benjamin L. Ginsberg, Michael A. Carvin, Barry Richard, Miguel A. Estrada, George J. Terwilliger III, Timothy E. Flanigan, William K. Kelley, John F. Manning, and Bradford R. Clark. Joseph P. Klock, Jr., argued the cause for Katherine Harris et al., respondents under this Court's Rule 12.6 in support of petitioners. With him on the brief were John W. Little III, Alvin F. Lindsay III, Ricardo M. Martinez-Cid, and Bill L. Bryant, Jr. Briefs in support of petitioners were filed by William Kemper Jennings for Glenda Carr et al.; by Robert A. Destro for Stephen Cruce et al.; and by George S. LeMieux and Frederick J. Springer for John E. Thrasher, all respondents under this Court's Rule 12.6.

David Boies argued the cause for respondents Gore et al. With him on the brief were Laurence H. Tribe, Andrew J. Pincus, Thomas C. Goldstein, Jonathan S. Massey, Kendall Coffey, and Peter J. Rubin. [*]

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I

On December 8, 2000, the Supreme Court of Florida ordered that the Circuit Court of Leon County tabulate by hand 9,000 ballots in Miami-Dade County. It also ordered the inclusion in the certified vote totals of 215 votes identified in Palm Beach County and 168 votes identified in Miami-Dade County for Vice President Albert Gore, Jr., and Senator Joseph Lieberman, Democratic candidates for President and Vice President. The State Supreme Court noted that petitioner George W. Bush asserted that the net gain for Vice President Gore in Palm Beach County was 176 votes, and directed the Circuit Court to resolve that dispute on remand. Gore v. Harris, 772 So.2d 1243, 1248, n. 6. The court further held that relief would require manual recounts in all Florida counties where so-called "undervotes" had not been subject to manual tabulation. The court ordered all manual recounts to begin at once. Governor Bush and Richard Cheney, Republican candidates for President and Vice President, filed an emergency application for a stay of this mandate. On December 9, we granted the application, treated the application as a petition for a writ of certiorari, and granted certiorari. Post, p. 1046.

The proceedings leading to the present controversy are discussed in some detail in our opinion in Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Bd., ante, p. 70 (per curiam) (Bush I). On November 8, 2000, the day following the Presidential election, the Florida Division of Elections reported that petitioner Bush had received 2,909,135 votes, and respondent Gore had received 2,907,351 votes, a margin of

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1,784 for Governor Bush. Because Governor Bush's margin of victory was less than "one-half of a percent . . . of the votes cast," an automatic machine recount was conducted under § 102.141(4) of the Florida Election Code, the results of which showed Governor Bush still winning the race but by a diminished margin. Vice President Gore then sought manual recounts in Volusia, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties, pursuant to Florida's election protest provisions. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 102.166 (Supp. 2001). A dispute arose concerning the deadline for local county canvassing boards to submit their returns to the Secretary of State (Secretary). The Secretary declined to waive the November 14 deadline imposed by statute. §§ 102.111, 102.112. The Florida Supreme Court, however, set the deadline at November 26. We granted certiorari and vacated the Florida Supreme Court's decision, finding considerable uncertainty as to the grounds on which it was based. Bush I, ante, at 78. On December 11, the Florida Supreme Court issued a decision on remand reinstating that date. Palm Beach County Canvassing Bd. v. Harris, 772 So.2d 1273, 1290.

On November 26, the Florida Elections Canvassing Commission certified the results of the election and declared Governor Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes. On November 27, Vice President Gore, pursuant to Florida's contest provisions, filed a complaint in Leon County Circuit Court contesting the certification. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 102.168 (Supp. 2001). He sought relief pursuant to § 102.168(3)(c), which provides that "[r]eceipt of a number of illegal votes or rejection of a number of legal votes sufficient to change or place in doubt the result of the election" shall be grounds for a contest. The Circuit Court denied relief, stating that Vice President Gore failed to meet his burden of proof. He appealed to the First District Court of Appeal, which certified the matter to the Florida Supreme Court.

Accepting jurisdiction, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. Gore v. Harris,

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772 So.2d 1243 (2000). The court held that the Circuit Court had been correct to reject Vice President Gore's challenge to the results certified in Nassau County and his challenge to the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board's determination that 3,300 ballots cast in that county were not, in the statutory phrase, "legal votes."

The Supreme Court held that Vice President Gore had satisfied his burden of proof under § 102.168(3)(c) with respect to his challenge to Miami-Dade County's failure to tabulate, by manual count, 9,000 ballots on which the machines had failed to detect a vote for President ("under-votes"). Id., at 1256. Noting the closeness of the election, the court explained that "[o]n this record, there can be no question that there are legal votes within the 9,000 uncounted votes sufficient to place the results of this election in doubt." Id., at 1261. A "legal vote," as determined by the Supreme Court, is "one in which there is a 'clear indication of the intent of the voter.' " Id., at 1257. The court therefore ordered a hand recount of the 9,000 ballots in Miami-Dade County. Observing that the contest provisions vest broad discretion in the circuit judge to "provide any relief appropriate under such circumstances," § 102.168(8), the Supreme Court further held that the Circuit Court could order "the Supervisor of Elections and the Canvassing Boards, as well as the necessary public officials, in all counties that have not conducted a manual recount or tabulation of the undervotes . . . to do so forth with, said tabulation to take place in the individual counties where the ballots are located." Id., at 1262.

The Supreme Court also determined that Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade County, in their earlier manual recounts, had identified a net gain of 215 and 168 legal votes, respectively, for Vice President Gore. Id., at 1260. Rejecting the Circuit...

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