US Elections: Top Judges on Republican Side

Article excerpt

ON FRIDAY, the US Supreme Court will decide on whether the manually recounted votes in Florida can be included in the final tally, as the Florida Supreme Court allowed. The ruling could therefore determine who becomes the next US President. This is not how things were supposed to work.

The US Supreme Court's stunning decision to intervene for the first time in history in a case which could decide a presidential election is very dangerous for an institution which for 10 years has proclaimed the importance of states' rights over the power of the federal government and the supremacy of the state supreme courts.

Liberal legal scholars and Gore lawyers are terrified it will provide Mr Bush with a victory and the much needed legitimacy he will need to govern. This is the most important case it has taken since in 1974 it ordered Richard Nixon to hand over the Watergate tapes. It was the final blow for the president who resigned 17 days later.

The Supreme Court is as powerful as the presidency and the Congress. The justices serve for life. They can only be removed by impeachment - which should make them immune from political pressures. But the present majority owe their jobs to Republicans and have not, by and large, disappointed their sponsors who were against any form of judicial activism. This has led to a "do nothing" court which has no legal giants. The recent performance of some of them at judicial conferences in Europe - where they displayed an appalling lack of knowledge of international legal issues - demonstrates how insular it has become. The Warren Court - 1950s to 1970s - forced through seismic changes in US society from civil rights to abortion; the majority of this court get excited about bankruptcy law.

Which makes the decision to take the presidential election case so surprising. What makes it so dangerous for the court is that while in the Nixon tapes case both sides were able to reach a unanimous decision - thus vastly increasing the moral authority of the court - there is little chance of one here. …