The Presidency: Constitutional Controversies

Bush v. Gore (2000)

Case background and primary sources concerning the Supreme Court case of Bush v. Gore. Dealing with the 2000 election, this lesson asks students whether or not they think the United States Supreme Court correctly decided the case.

Founding Principles

Due Process image

Due Process

The government must interact with all citizens according to the duly-enacted laws; applying these rules equally among all citizens.

Equal Protection image

Equal Protection

The principle of equal justice under law means that every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law. There are no individuals or groups who are born with the right to rule over others.

Federalism image

Federalism

The people delegate certain powers to the national government, while the states retain other powers; and the people, who authorize the states and national government, retain all freedoms not delegated to the governing bodies.

Separation of Powers image

Separation of Powers

A system of distinct powers built into the Constitution to prevent an accumulation of power in one branch.

Case Background

Presidential elections have been very close or disputed in 1800, 1824, 1876, 1888, and 1960, but the closest election of all occurred in 2000. The controversy of the 2000 election was not at the national level, but in a single state. After the United States Supreme Court halted a statewide manual recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, Florida’s electoral votes—and the Presidency—went to George W. Bush. In this lesson, students will explore the statutes, arguments, and court decisions that led to the Supreme Court’s ruling. Finally, they will evaluate the Court’s decision in one of the most controversial rulings in our history.

Key Question

Did the United States Supreme Court correctly decide Bush v. Gore (2000)?

Directions

Read the background essay. Then, using Documents A-N and your own knowledge of history and current events, evaluate the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore.

Learning Objectives

  • Students understand the major events during the 2000 presidential election in Florida.
  • Students analyze constitutional principles at issue in Bush v. Gore.
  • Students analyze applications of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • Students evaluate the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bush v. Gore.

Activities

  1. Have students read the background essay, Handout A: George W. Bush and the Supreme Court Case of Bush v. Gore, and answer the questions.
  2. Lead students to develop a timeline on the board to show the significant events described in the background essay.
  3. Assign appropriate documents for student analysis.
  4. Have students complete handout, Handout B: Organizing Documents, to show how each attorney might have used each of the documents provided.
  5. Use key question, “Did the United States Supreme Court correctly decide Bush v. Gore?” for class discussion or writing assignment, focusing on the constitutional principles involved in the case.

See RESOURCES for additional Graphic Organizers.

Materials

  1. United States Constitution, Article II, Section 1 (1789)
  2. The Fourteenth Amendment (1868)
  3. FL Stat. Title IX ch.101.5614(5) Canvass of Returns (2000)
  4. Florida Statute Title IX, Chapter 102: 102.168(8) Contest of Election (1999)
  5. Florida Statutes Title IX, Chapter 102: Deadline for submission of county returns to the Department of State (2000)
  6. Florida Supreme Court Decision in Palm Beach County Canvassing Board v. Katherine Harris, November 21, 2000
  7. Gore v. Harris, Majority Opinion, Florida Supreme Court, December 8, 2000
  8. Election Workers Check Ballots in Broward County, Florida
  9. Oral Arguments (Bush), Bush v. Gore )2000)
  10. Oral Arguments (Gore), Bush v. Gore (2000)
  11. Bush v. Gore (2000), Majority Opinion
  12. Bush v. Gore (2000), Dissenting Opinion, Justice Stevens
  13. Bush v. Gore (2000), Dissenting Opinion, Justice Breyer
  14. Stu’s Views (2002)

Extensions

  1. Have students use Handout C: Interview Questions to interview a family member or friend who recalls the events of the 2000 election. (This activity could be used to introduce the lesson rather than a wrap-up/extension.)
  2. Discuss additional constitutional issues related to this case:
    • Article II of the Constitution: Power to appoint electors is given to the state legislatures. Did the Florida Supreme Court decision violate Article II?
    • Separation of powers: Did the Florida Supreme Court interpret Florida law, or did it actually make new law by forcing Harris to accept the late returns and later ordering a state-wide recount?
    • Federalism: When, if ever, should the U.S. Supreme Court be involved in state Supreme Court decisions about state law?

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