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Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 12:07 GMT
US Supreme Court: How they ruled
Artist's impression of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, Antonin Scalia, John Stevens, William Rehnquist,  Sandra O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer.
The nine justices held the fate of the US presidency
Americans looked to the United States Supreme Court in Washington - the highest court in the land on national or constitutional matters - to resolve the legal battle for the US presidency.

When it finally delivered its verdict on 12 December after almost two days of deliberation, it in effect ruled out any further recounts of disputed votes in Florida, making a victory for George W Bush a near certainty.

Seven of the justices agreed there had been constitutional problems in connection with the decision to recount in Florida.

A majority ruling said it was "obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work."

But there was a five-four split on what action should be taken. In the end the case was formally remanded back to Florida.

In the majority were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Those dissenting were Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

The justices and how they voted

Chief Justice Rehnquist
Leading conservative Chief Justice Rehnquist

  • Chief Justice William Rehnquist: 76-years-old. Appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon in 1972, and promoted to chief justice by Ronald Reagan in 1986. Justice Rehnquist was instrumental in delivering a Supreme Court decision that gay men can be banned from serving as Scout leaders. He opposed abortion, and was one of the two justices who opposed the 1973 Roe v Wade judgement. He also strongly backs the death penalty, and is against affirmative action. In the 1950s he opposed school desegregation, backing instead "separate but equal" education for different races.

      Chief Justice Rehnquist led the Supreme Court's ruling to reverse a decision by the Florida Supreme Court to order hand recounts of disputed votes.

      In a further opinion, joined by justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, he said:

      "Florida statutory law cannot reasonably be thought to require the counting of improperly marked ballots. And there is no basis for reading the Florida statutes as requiring the counting of improperly marked ballots"

  • John Stevens: 80-years-old. Appointed by Gerald Ford in 1975. Justice Stevens backed a Supreme Court ruling that public school districts cannot let students lead stadium crowds in prayer before high school American football games.

      Justice Stevens dissented from the Florida ruling. In a strongly worded statement he said the court's decision would tarnish its reputation.

      "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear," he said. "It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law,"

  • Antonin Scalia: 64-years-old. A former US Court of Appeals judge. Appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986. Justice Scalia was on the wrong side of a Supreme Court vote in a landmark civil liberties case. The court ruled, with Justice Scalia dissenting, that an anti-loitering law aimed at controlling gang activity on inner-city streets was unconstitutional.

      Justice Scalia voted on 12 December to reverse the Florida Supreme Court decision to allow a recount.

      He joined Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas in a concurring statement explaining why they wanted to rule out further recounts.

    Justice Anthony Kennedy
    Justice Kennedy: Voted with the majority

  • Anthony Kennedy: 64-years-old. Former US Court of Appeals judge. Appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988.

      He voted to reverse the decision by the Florida Supreme Court to order manual recounts of disputed ballots.

  • Sandra O'Connor: 70-years-old. Former Arizona senator. Nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Justice O'Connor supported a ruling that the US Government does not have the power to regulate tobacco as a drug. Once a staunch conservative, she has subsequently become more liberal on some issues, and is often the key swing member.

      Justice O'Connor voted to reverse the decision by the Florida Supreme Court to order manual recounts.

    Justice Souter
    Justice Souter: His argument lost

  • David Souter: 61-years-old. Former New Hampshire Attorney General and Supreme Court judge. Appointed by George Bush in 1990.

      Justice Souter dissented from the ruling on the Florida recount.

      "In deciding what to do about this, we should take account of the fact that electoral votes are due to be cast in six days," he said. "I would therefore remand the case to the courts of Florida with instructions to establish uniform standards for evaluating the several types of ballots that have prompted differing treatments, to be applied within and among counties when passing on such identical ballots in any further recounting (or successive recounting) that the courts might order."

    Justice ClarenceThomas
    Justice Thomas: Appointment surrounded by scandal

  • Clarence Thomas: 52-years-old. Justice Thomas' appointment to the Supreme Court by George Bush was delayed in 1991 by allegations by a former colleague, Anita Hill, that he had sexually harassed her.

      Justice Thomas supported the majority Court ruling, and went further by joining Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia, in a concurring opinion.

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 67-years-old. Appointed to the Supreme Court by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1993. Thought of as a liberal and President Clinton loyalist.

      She dissented from the 12 December ruling on the Florida recount.

      "The Court's conclusion that a constitutionally adequate recount is impractical is a prophecy the Court's own judgment will not allow to be tested," she said. "Such an untested prophecy should not decide the Presidency of the United States."

    Justice Breyer
    Justice Breyer: Appointed by President Clinton

  • Stephen Breyer: 62-years-old. Appointed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. Justice Breyer opposed a Supreme Court ruling obliging President Clinton's bodyguards to testify in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

      He dissented from the ruling on the Florida recount.

      "The Court was wrong to take this case," he said. "It was wrong to grant a stay.

      "It should now vacate that stay and permit the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the recount should resume.

    Presidential appointees

    In theory, the US Supreme Court is the most powerful branch of US Government. It has the power to declare state law, federal law, executive actions or state supreme court decisions in violation of the US constitution and therefore have them reversed.

    Seven of the nine justices were appointed by Republican presidents, giving the court a distinctly conservative character.

    All nine justices on the Federal Supreme Court are appointed for life by the president.

    Because of an ageing membership, the next president is almost certain to have a chance to shape the court by appointing a number of new justices - most of whom are likely remain long after the president himself leaves office.

    The power to appoint Supreme Court justices sympathetic to a particular viewpoint is seen as one of the key areas of influence wielded by the president.


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