In Election Controversy, ACLU Urges High Court to Defend Power of Judiciary and Safeguard Right to Vote

November 28, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–The power of the courts to protect voters’ rights must not be diminished, the ACLU told the U.S. Supreme Court in a strongly worded friend-of-the-court brief filed today regarding the Florida presidential election controversy.

The ACLU submitted its brief in an appeal by Presidential hopeful George W. Bush due to be argued by the nation’s highest court this Friday. At issue is whether the Florida Supreme Court exceeded its authority by extending the deadline for submission of final tallies in the presidential election in order to allow manual recounts to go forward.

“Other than the glare of the presidential election, what the Florida Supreme Court did in this case is not that unusual,” the ACLU said in its brief. “If that decisionmaking process is now called into question, the role of the courts as a guardian of voting rights is likely to diminish.”

While the ACLU has criticized many court decisions over the years, said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU, “we respect the independence of the courts and the special role they hold in our carefully structured system of limited and divided governmental powers.”

As the ACLU argued in its brief, “We do not believe that the rather standard exercise of statutory interpretation engaged in by the court below can or should be characterized in apocalyptic terms.”

“To conclude that the court acted beyond its powers,” the ACLU brief said, “would result in the disenfranchisement of voters whose votes were not counted by the voting machines and render the court impotent in remedying election disputes.”

Laughlin W. McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project based in Atlanta, said that “the courts have a long and established history of extending election deadlines in order to preserve the integrity of the voice of the people.”

Over the years, he noted, the ACLU has routinely represented voters and candidates in election contests in order to protect the right to vote and the right to participate in an election process that is fair, without regard for partisan interests and concerns that might have been involved in the elections.

The case, George W. Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, was filed in the United States Supreme Court. Attorneys in the case are Shapiro of the national ACLU, McDonald and Bryan Sells of the ACLU Voting Rights Project and Randall Marshall and James K. Green of the ACLU of Florida. The ACLU’s brief can be found online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/bush.html.

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