Petitioner, George W. Bush, won the 25 electoral votes in Florida (and thus the presidential election) by a narrow margin against respondent, Al Gore. The narrow margin triggered an automatic recount of votes under Florida’s election laws. The machine recount narrowed the margin further as it excluded many votes. Gore then sought a manual recount of the votes and challenged the election results under a Florida statute. The Supreme Court of Florida accepted Gore’s challenge to the election results by holding that a manual recount was required. However, Florida law did not establish uniform guidelines for manually re-assessing ballots. Bush requested a stay on the recount and petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in a per curiam opinion held that the lack of uniform guidelines rendered the recounting of votes in Florida a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Furthermore, the Court held that the Florida Supreme Court cannot fashion new election law, a power reserved for state legislature, and therefore the previous outcome of the election (with Bush as the winner) stands. A few other justices wrote separately, stating that either a separate remedy could have been fashioned or that federalism concerns required Florida Supreme Court’s decision be respected.
The larger impact of this case was an increased distrust in the voting processes. Some scholars say that the decision affected the Supreme Court’s image as an independent judicial body and exposed it to accusations of partisanship.
[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]