The Fix is In

The US Supreme Court showed its hacks can be as partisan as any member of Congress when five Supremes arrogantly stopped the count and all but handed the election on a short count to George W. Bush.

There was no need for federal courts to interfere in the Florida count. Indeed, the conservative 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals in Atlanta that same day had denied just such an injunction, ruling that counting the votes posed no irreparable harm to Bush. But the Supreme Court inflicted irreparable harm to the people's right to elect their president. Al Gore already led the popular vote nationwide by more than 330,000, led in the Electoral College tally and appeared headed to a final win in the Florida vote with its crucial 25 electoral votes before the Supremes stopped the match short.

Some progressives, particularly those who voted for Ralph Nader, will be tempted to shrug off the Supreme Court's power play. That would be a major mistake. Courts should not vacate the will of the people under the pretense of conforming to an arcane timetable. But this court is accustomed to placing the rights of corporations over people and, as Nader said, Dubya is little more than a corporation running for president.

In this case the Supreme Court stopped the counting, authorized by Florida law, of some 43,000 ballots that were rejected by counting machines. Even the designers of the punch card reading machines admit they have an error rate of 1-5%, which is far greater than the margin of this election. They recommend hand counting as a backup.

An analysis by the Miami Herald found that even if 90% of these rejected ballots actually were blanks -- an extreme assumption -- Gore would still come out ahead by nearly 1,500 votes. More reasonable assumptions predict a Gore winning margin of more than 10,000 votes statewide.

But the five right-wing Supremes couldn't take that chance, ordering the counting stopped. Antonin Scalia was so bold as to explain that if votes were counted and showed Gore ahead, it would undermine the legitimacy of a future Bush presidency. So the votes must not be counted.

In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens, a Republican, joined by Republican David Souter and Democrats Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, all but predicted the final ruling in advance of the hearing as Stevens wrote that the majority acted "unwisely" and placed "a cloud on the legitimacy of the election" with its decision to stop the counting. Stevens wrote that the Florida Supreme Court's ruling "reflects the basic principle, inherent in our Constitution and our democracy, that every legal vote should be counted."

But some of the Supremes apparently want a Republican president as desperately as GOP Whip Tom DeLay, who sent congressional aides to Miami to join a mob action to stop the counting of disputed votes, or Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who went to great lengths to eliminate black voters in Florida from the voting rolls, "allowed" state troopers to set up a random traffic stop near a black voting box on election day, and then refused to count disputed ballots.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who as a Republican pollwatcher in Phoenix was notorious for harassing Hispanic (and presumed Democratic) voters in the 1960s, reportedly is hoping for a Bush victory so he can retire with a Republican successor. Scalia was rumored to be considering quitting the court if Bush didn't win and send him conservative reinforcements and/or appoint him chief justice upon Rehnquist's retirement. And Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was visibly upset on election night when it appeared that Gore had won Florida and, it appeared, the election, according to Mollie Dickenson of Consortiumnews.com. Some say O'Connor also hopes to become chief justice if Rehnquist steps down, although other reports have her considering retirement, hoping to be replaced by a Republican. Justice Clarence Thomas' wife is assisting the Bush transition for the Heritage Foundation.

Polls suggest that most Americans believe Bush won, but many of those same polls on the election eve also predicted that Bush would blow away Gore; then on election night predicted that Gore would carry Florida, then predicted that Bush would carry Florida. There is only one poll that counts -- the election -- but the Supreme Court won't allow it to be completed.

If Bush now takes office on this short count, Democrats who will be co-equals with Republicans in the Senate during the 107th Congress should not allow Scalia, O'Connor or other conservatives Bush might promote for the court to be rewarded. Republicans took a hard-line toward Bill Clinton's judicial nominees and Democrats should use all the parliamentary means at their disposal including filibuster, if necessary, to block any nominees that are unacceptable to the Democrats. If that causes vacancies on the court, so be it.

In fact, the long-count election of Maria Cantwell to the US Senate from Washington (with Nader Democrats providing the winning margin, by the way) by 2,200 votes over right-wing incumbent Slade Gorton makes Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle the election's big winner. Trent Lott, with Dick Cheney's vote, might remain the nominal Senate majority leader, but Daschle will decide if anything gets done in the next two years.

Bush is used to dealing with conservative Democrats in the Texas Legislature, but Daschle is a lot more liberal, with a South Dakota populist streak. With 20 Republican senators coming up for election (along with 14 Democrats) and incumbent R's Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms in poor health, Daschle has little need to accept bad deals. He is expected to fight deep tax cuts for the wealthy and has ruled out privatization of Social Security and Medicare and other Republican extremes.

The first priority of the new Congress should be election and campaign finance reform. Although glaring problems are evident in the Electoral College, we don't believe smaller states would go along with a constitutional amendment to address their disproportionate impact on the presidential election. However, states should at least apportion their electors according to the presidential vote. That would reduce the possibility of a candidate losing the nationwide popular vote but winning the White House.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., will be back with their bill to limit the role of soft money and make independent political operations accountable. The new Senate will have 59 members who either voted for campaign finance reform or pledged support for it. That's just one short of the number needed to force a vote, but the Republican leadership and right-wing lobbyists will fight to preserve their advantage.

Grassroots support also is needed to promote public financing of federal campaigns to get corporate money out of politics and help ordinary people run for office. Maine, Arizona and Vermont ran their first elections under Clean Money systems this year. Democrats, Republicans and independents benefitted from public funds in return for limiting private fundraising and campaign spending. In Maine, 17 out of 35 members of the state senate were elected running as Clean Elections candidates, as did 45 out of 151 in the state house. In Arizona, two senators and 12 House members were elected running "clean," as were two winners of seats on the three-person statewide Corporations Commission.

In Vermont, statewide candidates were eligible for Clean Money for the first time. Lt. Gov. Douglas Racine won reelection without private money and Anthony Pollina, Progressive Party candidate for governor, was included in debates and news coverage and got 10% of the vote. In Massachusetts, Clean Elections, covering all statewide races and the state legislature, go into effect March 31st for the 2002 election cycle.

A bipartisan bill, HR 5631, sponsored by US Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa), would establish a nonpartisan, 12-member commission to examine the advisability and feasibility of proportional voting systems, instant runoff voting, cumulative voting, and other election-related issues. The Center for Voting and Democracy (www.fairvote.org) helped draft this bill. To get your congressional representative to co-sponsor the Federal Elections Review Commission Act, call 202-224-3121. -- JMC

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