Bush v. Gore, according to O’Connor

The following blog post from the NY Times highlights retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s recent comments on the Bush v. Gore decision.  I have deleted the editorial content of the post because I want to hear your opinion.  Was SCOTUS’s  agreement to hear the case a good decision?  And what about the decision itself?  Is O’Connor’s after-the-fact commentary appropriate?  Was the Court’s decision a good one?

O’Connor Regrets Bush v. Gore

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 25, 2012. T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty ImagesFormer

Now she tells us. More than 12 years after the fact, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said she believes it was a mistake for the Supreme Court to take Bush v. Gore and anoint George W. Bush as president of the United States.

“It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue,” Justice O’Connor told the Chicago Tribune editorial board on Friday. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.’”

She continued: “Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision. It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day.”

The result, she allowed, “stirred up the public” and “gave the court a less than perfect reputation.”

Justice O’Connor’s comments, as fascinating as they are, have to set some kind of record for detachment (she calls the court on which she sat for 25 years “it” — avoiding the more apt “we”) and also for understatement.

Granted, we don’t know for sure whether Justice O’Connor wanted to take Bush v. Gore. Only four justices have to agree to hear a case. But we do know that she sided with the majority on the actual decision, which stopped the recounting in Florida and gave a one-vote majority in the Electoral College to the man who lost the national popular vote.

14 responses to “Bush v. Gore, according to O’Connor”

  1. Adam7 says :

    It’s wrong for O’Connor to throw her colleagues under the bus by suddenly disowning this unpopular decision. It’s clearly just to polish her own reputation; the case has no precedential value, so it’s not like it needs to be overturned or anything. Reopening this issue doesn’t help anybody out (other than O’Connor, of course). Furthermore, that picture of her is probably going to give me nightmares.

  2. mattgiannottione says :

    What I personally am curious about is if Bush had been a raging success, would O’Connor be bringing this up? I find it interesting, nonetheless, because in a case such as Bush v. Gore, political ties could and probably did play into the decision making. I guess what O’Connor is saying is not so much commenting that it was a bad decision to chose Bush for president, but that it was a bad decision for the Supreme Court to choose any president. I agree with this because if the Court’s goal is to not damage their reputation, they should not be picking sides on a major political race with almost equal support for both sides. Also, they do not want to pick a president such as Bush again.

  3. Tanya4 says :

    It is not unheard of for a justice to change her mind after stepping down from the court (ex: Powell in Bowers v Hardwick). However, I dont think that O’Connor is justified in her attempts to try and salvage the past. Why now? And is it a function of the outcome of the W. Presidency? As was mentioned above, the case cant be used as precedent and thus I see no reason for her to try and reverse/refute Bush v. Gore. Although I do agree that the court shouldn’t have heard the case in the first place, her statements have no justified purpose.

  4. Paul1 says :

    I believe that the court should not have taken the case. In part because it was an unprecedented action to take the case, and an unusual, rushed judgement on something that traditionally falls outside what the court normally deals with. I also disagree personally with many of President Bush’s policy, and don’t believe that he was a better president than Gore could’ve been, but that’s not a good enough reason to dispute the court’s action. I do appreciate that O’Connor is able to admit that she has since changed her mind about the court’s decision, upon which she had an influence, but think that she’s trying to save face after the court put Bush–who turned out to be a very unpopular president–into power.

  5. AkhilP7 says :

    Bush v Gore was a mistake. It looked like a political move on the Supreme Court’s behalf since the Florida Supreme Court had granted a recount. The per curiam decision did have limited wording, implying that this case was limited by the facts, but there was no indication as to how far that reasoning could be used in other cases. So it could still hold precedential value, just like many other court cases that were supposedly “limited to the facts.”

  6. robhrabchak4 says :

    Although it was unprecedented for the Supreme Court to make decisions regarding a presidential election, I think that the Court did the right thing by taking the case. With the election process having dragged on much longer than it normally would, a definitive decision had to be made relatively quickly. If the proceedings had been allowed to continue, more doubt would likely have continued to arise around the situation. By stepping in, the Court was able to take hold of the situation and essentially provide leadership, whether or not they really had the right to. It may have weakened the Court’s reputation, and it may have lead to a worse outcome in many people’s eyes, but that is easy to say looking back on the situation. At the time, there was much uncertainty, and worse; there was no one, other than the Court, to look to for guidance and leadership.

  7. 4mary says :

    While the court’s job is to stay non-partisan it’s hard to see how else this situation could have played out positively. I think the court taking the case was them trying to not make a bad situation any worse. Whether or not that’s their place is still up in the air, but who’s is it then? There are going to be unfortunate and unanticipated events and someone has to make that call. I don’t think O’Connor stepping forward now though is right. As Adam and Tanya both stated, she doesn’t have a purpose in coming forward except maybe that of political gain. But if the court is non-partisan, her tenure there should be retrospectively respected as such also.

  8. Connor1 says :

    Agreeing with Mary, the whole situation in general was kind of a disaster. Because the battle for president is already as heated as it is, for a third party (SCOTUS) to be thrown into the mix doesn’t help any cause. I think that there were multiple better ways to resolve the problem, if the problem had to be resolved at all. Bush still one the election and if they just gave it to him in the first place this whole crisis could have been avoided in the first place. And the situation was made even worse because the supreme court did a makeshift job recounting the votes; if you are going to the job, do it right, and that is why there was such a bad aftermath to this case.

  9. Crawford4 says :

    I think O’Connor made a mistake when she came out against the decision the reputation of the court rides on the fact that they always stand behind their decisions and no one throws each other under the bus or plays for reputation as we see too much in politics. But as far as the decision I think the court needed to step in. If the re-count had continued who knows what could have ensued each counter came to different conclusions and then you have people looking into the political ideals of each counter. It was a disaster and could have been worse. The country needed stability and the court provided it.

  10. nicoleb7 says :

    I think the court was right in taking Bush v. Gore at the time. It is not like elections are messed up often and SCOTUS has to step in to elect a president a lot. But this election was in chaos and they thought it was appropriate to step in a try to solve the problem. O’Connor saying now, 12 years later, that she thinks they should not have heard the case is not only unproductive for the Bush v. Gore case but it also does not help any other court case that is going to arise anytime soon. Like I said, the court has ended an election only once and will probably never do it again so her opinion about it now is somewhat irreverent.

  11. Emily1 says :

    I believe that the court needed to step in. It was a rare occasion and at the time, it seemed necessary to take the case. I agree with Nicole, her opinion now is completely irrelevant. She is trying to save herself from ridicule, which honestly, no one cares about anymore. The past is still the past, and nothing she says now can change that. Whatever repercussions occurred as a result of this case happened, but the court did take responsibility and tried to solve the election issue, whether they did a good job or not.

  12. Chad4 says :

    I don’t think it was appropriate for O’Connor to question the Court’s decision to hear the case. At that time, I think the Court had to hear this case and I agree with the way they voted. I just think O’Connor is trying to remove herself from an unpopular case during her tenure on the Court. In my opinion, O’Connor is trying to enhance her legacy by making these comments.

  13. Nick4 says :

    While I think the Court was right to hear the case, I don’t think it was wrong of O’Connor to regret the decision to hear it. I don’t understand why the Court needs to have a perfect reputation. I guarantee this isn’t the first time a Justice has had regrets on a decision they made, this is just the first example one has been vocal about it. As Nicole said, it’s irrelevant what O’Connor thinks about the case; what’s done is done. However, she shouldn’t be ridiculed for sharing her thoughts on the case. It’s fine to criticize her for bringing up something that has no effect on anything, but I don’t think people can criticize her for changing her mind.

  14. iqra07 says :

    I think that the Court was right to take Bush v. Gore. At the time, everything was chaotic and the Court was trying to straighten things out. The chaos probably would have lasted even longer had the Court not stepped in. Additionally, I don’t blame O’Connor for regretting the decision; everyone regrets some of their decisions. However, I don’t see the need for her to vocalize it. As was mentioned earlier, the case isn’t currently being used as precedent, so O’Connor’s ‘confession’ is just out of the blue.

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