Election Mess 2000

Dueling Courts & Power Plays

Revolutionary Worker #1083, December 17, 2000, posted at http://rwor.org

There was a lot revealed by the dueling courts--as they battled each other in the election mess that has turned into a fierce power struggle--rippling through the key institutions of the government and becoming more bitter as it dragged out. Events have left the rival ruling class centers worrying about how ragged their presidency and their system will look when the decision finally gets made.

As the TV cameras gathered outside the Florida Supreme Court on December 8, Vice President Gore had reserved airtime for a concession speech. The Bush legal team had a case of expensive champagne chilling for their celebrations. TV commentators were already describing how the two candidates would have a week of public appearances to legitimize the winner--to convince the public that the next president was "their president."

Then in a flash, the Florida Supreme Court ruling dropped a bomb--and put the Democrats back in the game. It was a sudden twist in the high-stakes game of "dueling institutions."

Ever since the presidential election stalemated on November 7, the rival camps fought to have the final decisions made by a ruling class institution likely to rule their way. For a month, the advantage has seemed to be with George W. Bush--since Florida Governor Jeb Bush, younger brother in this CIA family, was in control of the state machinery that would decide when the vote counting was over and certify who won. When the U.S. Supreme Court reminded the world that the U.S. Constitution gave the final say over how presidential electors are chosen to the Florida legislature (which is Republican-controlled)--the end seemed near.

Who would have guessed that the Florida Supreme Court would stage a surprise last-minute drive-by in this ruling class turf war?

They ruled that all the 45,000 ballots rejected by vote-counting machines in Florida needed to be recounted by hand. And it was widely reported that the 10,000 new votes this was likely to produce would be concentrated in precincts that went heavily for Al Gore.

In a moment--all talk of concession and closure evaporated. The knives and fangs were back out. The ruling class divisions got more intense everywhere--between warring institutions butting heads and making challenges. And there were divisions within the divisions.

For example, there was a public, bitter split within the Florida Supreme Court. Their decision for a recount had been a close 4 to 3 vote. The Chief Justice of the Florida Court issued a harsh dissent calling his own court's majority reckless and illegal.

Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, Florida's capital, Jeb Bush used his majority in the State Legislature to call a special session--designed to defy the State Supreme Court and endorse the pre-recount slate of Bush electors that had been certified by Secretary of State Harris (the co-chair of the Florida Bush presidential campaign).

Within hours of the Florida Supreme Court ruling the recounting started.

Then, as the Bush lead shrank, a second bomb landed--the U.S. Supreme Court by a narrow 5-4 majority stopped the vote recount in its tracks. A statement written by the extreme rightwing Justice Scalia suggested that the top court would stop the vote counting for good after a hearing on Monday.

This too was a statement from a sharply split court--and the minority statement raised questions about the legitimacy of a president imposed without a careful count of all votes.

Rival Concerns and Second Thoughts

"To state it in a single sentence, elections are controlled by the bourgeoisie, are not the means through which basic decisions are made in any case, and are really for the primary purpose of legitimizing the system and the policies and actions of the ruling class, giving them the mantle of a 'popular mandate,' and of channeling, confining, and controlling the political activity of the masses of people."

Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP

After the Presidential election of 2000 failed to pick a candidate, the bitter fight over whether to recount these votes in Florida has been a fight, within the ruling class, over how best to make their decision--and how best to give legitimacy to a government and policies that will not have "the mantle of a popular mandate."

The majority of the Florida State Supreme Court clearly felt that the future president would never receive that legitimacy if large numbers of valid votes were not counted, and if the counting process was cut short by political forces allied with one candidate. And the danger (for the system and its government) was made clear when Democratic Party figures, including President Clinton, threatened to use the Freedom of Information Act to have the Florida ballots counted by reporters and academics even after the elections are declared over--so that within months (even with George W. in the White House) the whole world would know if the Florida vote had really been won by Gore.

At the same time, the Chief Justice and other minority dissenters on the Florida court argued that holding a recount would not successfully resolve this fight--but would intensify it with unpredictable consequences for the system. Florida Chief Justice Wells wrote, "I have a deep and abiding concern that the prolonging of judicial process in this counting contest propels this country and this state into an unprecedented and unnecessary constitutional crisis. I have to conclude that this constitutional crisis will do substantial damage to our country, our state and to this court as an institution."

And then the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the recount cold--so that there would not be any official proof of who won the vote other than the original machine counts--despite evidence that up to one out of four ballots had been "undercounted" in some Black precincts.

All sides of this fight reveal again how these dueling courts--like all the other institutions dragged into this dispute--are highly political bodies. Not just political in the sense of "Republican versus Democrat," but political in the class sense--in the sense that they are approaching issues of policy and power from the interests and concerns of their class, from the bourgeois politics serving that ruling class, its monopoly capitalist system and its institutions of power.

In ordinary times, when "hallowed institutions" (like these courts) are carrying out their day-to-day suppression of the masses of people, and regulating routine disputes within the ruling class, their actions and processes come wrapped in the mythical covering of the "rule of law"--supposedly "above" politics.

Now in this fight, when the ruling class itself is sharply divided and when rival camps are wielding institutions against each other like weapons, it is possible to see how much their decisions are not made based on impartial readings of their laws (and certainly not on "the will of the people")--but rather, their actions and their colliding decisions are based on their differing perceptions of what is best for their class.

At the same time, these ruling class figures obviously have partisan loyalties to various ruling class camps. But these partisan loyalties are themselves part of that overall bourgeois outlook and politics--an expression of their judgements about what is best for their institutions and the system overall.

In short, the fight for the presidency continued after December 8, not because four judges in Florida had a particular reading of the law--but because powerful sections of the ruling class are willing to risk the mounting bitterness and lasting divisions within their class rather than give ground in this fight over the leadership of their empire.


As we go to press, the struggle has gone so far into the realm of the unscripted and surreal that no one can say where it will end. But it is clear to everyone that it has now gotten even more bitter. Whoever wins will face a sharply divided political establishment, and will be seen as a power-stealer by big sections of the population.

When the U.S. Supreme Court plunged into this mess, the majority voted to suppress the counting of ballots--and gave indications that they might even decide this presidential election by court decision. Meanwhile, a partisan split in the high court was revealed to the world. And the danger is real (for this Court and for the ruling class as a whole) that such an intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court would not legitimize the president they chose, but would taint their own institution as partisan and illegitimate.

But the alternative scenarios as the high court stepped in showed the Catch-22 of election mess 2000 facing the U.S. power structure. If the Supreme Court had not stepped in, they risked forcing the election into the "nightmare scenario": where a Gore victory in the recount would result in two rival electoral slates coming out of Florida; this would shove the election into the U.S. Congress--where the House of Representatives picks the President and the Senate picks the Vice President; if the Republican-dominated House went for Bush and a tied Senate vote went for Lieberman, based on Vice President Gore's tie-breaking vote, then the deadlock between these two houses of Congress would be broken by the governor of Florida--Jeb Bush!

This scenario is called the "nightmare scenario" within the bourgeoisie, for various reasons. A congressional vote would not add to the stature of any president, since the elected officials of the Congress are rated in many polls somewhere below used car salesmen and TV evangelists. And also, while Bush was advertised as someone who would diminish the partisan fighting in the ruling class, the House of Representatives is in the hands of Republican attack dogs who gave the world the "Contract with America" and the impeachment of Clinton. How much legitimacy would there be to a Bush presidency achieved by suppressing the Florida vote and empowering the Republican majority in the House?

So by December 8, the conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court felt they had no choice but to step in, even at the risk of damaging the reputation of the highest court in the land.


After the past weeks, no one dares make predictions any more. But this much is clear: Millions of people have gotten a shocking glimpse of the real-life workings and power relations of the U.S. government, and to many this whole political system looks like a rotting heap of corruption, dirty dealing, and power grabs.

But is this because somehow the system failed in this election? No. What is usually hidden has now leaped into view--like the monster in Alien. As Bob Avakian has said, all the institutions of government are revealing themselves as branches of the same tree: U.S. imperialism.

"The checks and balances are checks and balances among different parts of the same system of government: the dictatorship of the ruling class of imperialists over those they exploit and oppress. The disputes among them--which have been given such play and promoted as such dramatic illustrations of "democracy in action"--are in part disputes about who is going to have how much power among different groups within the same ruling class, and, most fundamentally, they are disputes about how to pursue the same basic imperialist interests. The proof of this is right there--in what they are arguing about and what they are all in agreement on. Check it out."

Bob Avakian, " 'Checks and
Balances'--and Dictatorship,"
Reflections, Sketches and Provocations

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