The Night the Supreme Court Settled a Presidential Election, Declaring George W. Bush the WinnerHistorians in the News
tags: George W. Bush, Supreme Court, 2000 election, Florida recount, Bush v. Gore
George W. Bush was in his pajamas.
It was 10 p.m. on Dec. 12, 2000. A day earlier, lawyers representing the Texas governor and Vice President Al Gore — the candidates for president in a race yet to be decided — had sparred in the Supreme Court over the contentious recount in Florida.
The nation was on judicial pins and needles, just as it could be again, with President Trump vowing Wednesday he’ll go to the Supreme Court to rule on the 2020 election, which he falsely claimed to have won.
Nearly two decades ago, reporters camped out on the Supreme Court steps in heavy winter coats, anxiously awaiting a decision the court would disseminate not on a website, or in an email, and certainly not via Twitter, which wouldn’t be born for another six years.
The opinion was printed on paper and handed out in the Supreme Court press room. Reporters ran outside to the steps and began reading it live on TV. On ABC News, anchor Peter Jennings asked legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin what the decision said — and what it meant.
“The um…” Toobin said, holding the decision.
“Take your time Jeffrey,” Jennings said.
“The…” Toobin said flipping a page.
But no other words come out.
Finally, Toobin said, “Peter, if you would give me one minute it would be better.”
In an election marked by epic chaos, the final moments were no different — and just as close. The decision was 5 to 4. Some reporters read it as favorably for Bush, then Texas’s governor. Others read it favorably for Gore.
As Bush’s lawyers began faxing the decision to each other, Karl Rove, Bush’s chief campaign adviser, was in a McLean, Va., hotel room watching the coverage.
He was also in his pajamas.
“I have NBC on, and Pete Williams and Dan Abrams are outside the Supreme Court trying to describe the opinion,” Rove told the Atlantic in an oral history of the election. “As I recall, Williams had somebody feed him the opinion from the back to the front. So he is reading the conclusion, and it is that the court finds that the Florida Supreme Court violates the equal-protection clause and Article II, and the election is over.”
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