November 23, 2000
Bush & the Law
Texas Gov. George W. Bush seemed to misunderstand one of the most fundamental concepts of the American system of government during his harsh attack on the Florida Supreme Court.
Angered by the court's ruling that Florida law permits hand recounts, Bush accused the court of using "the bench to change Florida's election laws and usurp the authority of Florida's election officials."
The Republican presidential nominee then stated that "writing laws is the duty of the legislature; administering laws is the duty of the executive branch."
Bush left out the third component of the U.S. system, a fact taught to every American child in grade-school civics class -- that it is the duty of the judiciary to interpret the laws. It is also the responsibility of the courts to resolve differences between parties under the law.
Besides suggesting a profound ignorance of the U.S. political system, Bush's intemperate language on Wednesday sent a strong message to aggressive Republican demonstrators who were busy intimidating the election canvassing board in Dade County.
After delays caused, in part, by repeated Republican challenges, the board had ordered a county-wide hand recount. The partially completed recount showed Vice President Al Gore cutting into Bush's lead by 157 votes, with the potential of giving Gore enough votes in Dade County alone to erase Bush's 930-vote lead.
But faced with the Florida Supreme Court's deadline of Sunday for submission of new figures, the board decided to forsake its full recount. That negated Gore's unofficial 157-vote gain.
The board decided to review only the 10,000 disputed ballots for which counting machines had failed to detect a vote for president. Still, the Gore camp hoped those disputed ballots would supply a substantial net gain for the vice president.
However, confronted by shouting pro-Bush partisans – many from Miami's hard-line Cuban-American community – the board reversed itself again. It halted the recount entirely and reverted back to the original count that had most favored Bush.
If left standing, the board's decision probably assures that thousands of potential votes for Gore will go uncounted and that Bush will win Florida by several hundred votes and thus the presidency.
In winning the Electoral College with Florida's 25 electoral votes, Bush would become the first nationwide popular-vote loser to take the White House in more than a century. Gore's national lead now exceeds 325,000 votes and Gore's popular-vote total makes him the second-largest presidential vote-getter in U.S. history.
Nevertheless, Bush would get the presidency -- and the chance to preside over a system of governance that he seems to barely comprehend.