The US Supreme Court holds the power to break the deadlock in
Florida's 2000 presidential election. But at what price?
If a majority of justices rule decisively in favor of George W.
Bush or Al Gore, legal analysts say the court risks drawing
accusations of political bias, or worse, charges that the high
court is installing the next president.
With the nine justices set to hear arguments on Friday in the
Florida election dispute, some analysts are questioning whether the
case might alter public perceptions about one of America's most
trusted and revered institutions.
"To some extent, it is an inevitable consequence of engaging in a
high-stakes case, in which they have undertaken to solve the
conflict between two presidential candidates," says Paul Rothstein,
a professor at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. But
he adds, "The United States Supreme Court enjoys much more respect
from the people than does any state supreme court and it will, by
and large, have legitimacy in all but the most partisan quarters."
Indeed, the US Supreme Court basks in a somewhat exalted status
in comparison to the other two branches of the national government.
And the justices jealously protect the court's image as an
impartial forum for the resolution of thorny legal disputes.
But the court has also received its share of criticism. In
addition, future high-court appointments were a campaign issue
during the presidential election.
Seven of the nine justices were appointed by Republican
presidents. But legal analysts stress that party affiliation alone
is not an accurate predictor of how individual justices may rule.
Nonetheless, some observers are asking whether the US Supreme
Court can avoid the taint of partisan politics in a case that is so
"They can't," says Gov. Frank Keating, (R) of Oklahoma. "Everyone
is a partisan."
Governor Keating and other Republican leaders are in Florida to
witness the manual ballot recount and to register objections to a
process they say is unfair.
"Judges are political like everyone else," adds Gov. William
Janklow (R) of South Dakota, referring to the US Supreme Court.
"They are not above politics."
The comments come less than a week after the Florida Supreme
Court was lambasted in the wake of a decision that many Republicans
viewed as an attempt by the Democrat-appointed justices to hand the
election to Vice President Gore.
Governor Bush denounced the Florida court's decision as flagrant
"The court had cloaked its ruling in legalistic language," Bush
said. "But make no mistake, the court rewrote the law. It changed
the rules, and it did so after the election was over."
Did Florida court usurp authority?
Many legal analysts, including lawyers for Gore, say the Florida
court's decision is entirely defensible on legal grounds. They say
the justices used well-established methods to interpret ambiguous
But other analysts agree with Bush that the state court seemed
more than willing to wield the kind of power normally entrusted to
elected officials. …