Picking A President: The Democratic Party Contest in 1976

The 1976 presidential campaign featured what was at the time a record number of state primaries and caucuses. It is recognized as the first presidential campaign in which the primary system was dominant in selecting presidential candidates for the two major parties. As often occurs with change, many failed to appreciate the significance of this change or learned how to capitalize on it, and this included most of the Democratic candidates who had their eyes on the preidency that year. Specifically, many of those candidates failed to realize the significance of the increased number of primaries when it came to presenting the appearance of having vast public support, gathering momentum in the nomination contest, and of course in gathering up delegates for the nominating convention.

In 1976 a lot of Democrats had their eyes on the White House. They were certain that this was their year to take back the Presidency. The incumbent Republicans were unpopular for a number of very significant reasons: the Watergate scandal and the subsequent resignation of Richard Nixon, the humiliating American withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, the economic recession of 1974-75, all had Americans in a mood for change. President Gerald Ford had squandered his early popularity with an unconditional pardon of Richard Nixon. He was seen to be incapable of handling the recession, and by late 1975 had slumped badly in national polls. Even the presence of bicentennial year celebrations did not help him recover from these problems.

Despite all of the political tea leaves appearing to be in the Democrats' favor, the party seemed to lack a clear front-runner for the nomination. This was due in large measure to a lack of trust of beltway politicians. The lack of an apparent consequence for Nixon other than his resignation, and especially his pardon, led many to believe that politicians looked after one another and could not be trusted. The level of trust Americans had for those in Congress dropped significantly and has never been recovered.

A number of Democrats competed for their party's presidential nomination in 1976, although most of these candidates would drop out early in the race. Those seeking the nomination included California Governor Jerry Brown, Alabama Governor George Wallace, Arizona Congressman Morris Udall, Washington Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Idaho Senator Frank Church, Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, 1972 Vice-Presidential candidate Sargent Shriver, former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, Chair of the New York "Right to Life Party" Ellen McCormack, Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp, Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, and the man who would win it all that year, former Georgia Governor James Earl Carter.

Carter was a longshot, and was not as well known as many of the others. But in 1976 not being a well-known politician was not the liability that it might be in other years. Carter was the one candidate who did see the opportunities in the new nominating system. Carter was a former state senator as well as a former Governor of Georgia, and the one thing he understood well was small state politics. Carter was virtually unknown at the national level. There was no way that he would have ever won the Democratic nomination under the old, boss-dominated nominating system. But he was the right man for the time. Public disgust with political corruption following Nixon's resignation was a significant factor for voters and Carter realized that his obscurity and "fresh face" could be an asset in the primaries.

Carter's plan was to run in all of the primaries and caucuses, beginning with the Iowa caucuses. He wanted to gain prominence and build up momentum by winning "somewhere" each time primary elections were held. All of that began in Carter startled many political experts by finishing second in the Iowa caucuses. He finished first among the candidates who ran in the caucuses, but indicative of the mistrust that existed at the time, he finished second behind "uncommitted" delegates. The results were as follows:

Uncommitted: 37.16%
Carter: 27.57%
Bayh: 13.19%
Harris: 9.89%
Udall: 5.99%
Shriver: 3.30%
Jackson: 1.10%

Udall had been leading in the polls at one point, and the loss was a blow to his campaign. Harris tried to usurp the role of victorious underdog. He had briefly been a contender for his party's nomination in 1972, but dropped out of the race a few months before the first primaries. He was one of four Democratic presidential contenders that year identified as being of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. (The others were Udall, Bayh, and Shriver - father of future First Lady of California Maria Shriver). Carter was considered to be the principal moderate-to-conservative among the leading 1976 Democratic nomination candidates.

Carter followed up on this momentum with a win in the New Hampshire primary on February 24, which in 1976 took place more than a month after Iowa's caucuses. Harris would end up finishing a disappointing 4th behind Carter. Udall would resurrect his candidacy with a strong second-place showing only 5 percentage points behind the winner. For Harris, on Tuesday March 2, 1976, he finished 5th in Massachusetts and, on that very same day, finished 3rd in an Advisory Primary in Vermont. From that point on, Harris was a non-factor in the 1976 race.

Carter's victory in the New Hampshire primary proved that a Southerner could win in the North. He then proceeded to slowly but steadily accumulate delegates in primaries around the nation and knocked his key rivals out of the race one by one. He defeated former Alabama Governor George Wallace in the North Carolina primary March 23, eliminating his main rival in the South. He defeated Washington Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson in Pennsylvania April 27, and Jackson quit the race. In the Wisconsin primary on April 6, Carter scored an impressive come-from-behind victory over Mo Udall, and eliminated Udall as a serious contender.

Idaho Senator Frank Church and California Governor Jerry Brown announced their candidacies for the Democratic nomination and defeated Carter in several late primaries. But their campaigns started too late to prevent Carter from gathering the remaining delegates he needed to capture the nomination. The 1976 Democratic National Convention was held in New York City. By the time the convention opened Carter had more than enough delegates to win the nomination, and the major emphasis at the convention was to create an appearance of party unity, something which had been sorely lacking in the 1968 and 1972 Democratic Conventions. Carter easily won the nomination on the first ballot he then chose Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota, a liberal and a protege of Hubert Humphrey, as his running mate. In a race that was closer than many expected, Carter went on to defeat Ford and recapture the White House for the Democratic Party.

Happy Birthday President Carter

Today is President Jimmy Carter's 99th birthday. James Earl Carter Jr.was born on October 1, 1924 at the Wise Sanitarium, in Plains, Georgia. He was the first president to be born in a hospital.


Jimmy Carter is the eldest of four children born to James Earl Carter and the former Bessie Lillian Gordy. Carter's father was a prominent business owner in Plains, and his mother was a registered nurse. At the age if 18, Carter was admitted to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1943. He graduated 59th out of 820 midshipmen at the Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree and he served in both the Atlantic and Pacific U.S. Submarine Fleets. He then attended graduate school majoring in reactor technology and nuclear physics. He served in the US Navy's fledgling nuclear submarine program run by then Captain Hyman G. Rickover. Upon the death of his father James Earl Carter, Sr. in July 1953, Carter left the Navy and returned home to run the family business in 1953, operating a peanut farm. Carter developed an interest in politics and served two terms as a Georgia State Senator and one term as Governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975.

In 1976 he sought the Democratic Party's nomination for President. He was considered to have little chance of success, but following the Watergate scandal and President Gerald Ford's pardoning of Richard Nixon, Carter's position as a Washington outsider became an asset. Carter became the front-runner early on by winning the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. On November 2, 1976 Carter was elected president, winning the popular vote by a margin of 50.1 percent to 48.0 percent for incumbent Gerald Ford, and received 297 electoral votes to Ford's 240.

During Carter's term as President, he created two new cabinet departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He established a national energy policy that included conservation and price control. In foreign affairs, Carter negotiated the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), and the return of the Panama Canal Zone to Panama. He took office during a period of international stagnation and inflation, which persisted throughout his term. Mortgage interest rates rose to over 20%. The end of his term saw the Iran hostage crisis, the 1979 energy crisis, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. By 1980, Carter's popularity had eroded.

Carter ran for re-election in 1980. He survived a primary challenge from Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy for the Democratic Party nomination, but lost the election to Ronald Reagan. On January 20, 1981, minutes after Carter's term in office ended, the 52 U.S. captives held at the U.S. embassy in Iran were released, ending the 444-day Iran hostage crisis.

Following his defeat Carter and his wife Rosalynn founded the Carter Center in 1982, a nongovernmental, non-profit organization that seeks to advance human rights. He has traveled extensively to observe elections, advance disease prevention and eradication in developing nations and work for the Habitat for Humanity project. In 2002, President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for the world done by Carter Center, in the words of the Nobel committee, "to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." Three sitting presidents have received the prize (Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama) but Carter is unique in that he received the award for his actions after leaving the presidency. Carter and Martin Luther King, Jr. are the only two native Georgians to receive a Nobel Prize.

President Carter has had a very busy retirement that has included serving as an Honorary Chair for the World Justice Project, serving as Honorary Chair for the Continuity of Government Commission and he has written many books. On June 16, 2011, the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's official declaration of America's War on Drugs, Carter wrote an op-ed in The New York Times urging the United States and the rest of the world to "Call Off the Global War on Drugs".

President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter

Carter criticized the administration of President Barack Obama for the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists. Carter also said that he disagrees with President Obama's decision to keep the Guantánamo Bay detention camp open, saying that the U.S. government had no moral leadership, and was committing human rights violations. In July 2013, Carter criticized current federal surveillance programs, as disclosed by Edward Snowden, stating "America has no functioning democracy at this moment."

On August 3rd, 2015, Carter had elective surgery to remove "a small mass" on his liver. His initial prognosis was for a full recovery, but on August 12, Carter announced he had been diagnosed with cancer that had spread elsewhere in his body, without specifying where the cancer had originated. On August 20, he disclosed that melanoma had been found in his brain and liver, and that he had begun treatment with the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab and was about to start radiation therapy. His healthcare is being managed by Emory Healthcare of Atlanta. Carter's family has a history of cancer, including both of his parents and all three of his siblings. On December 6, 2015, Carter issued a statement that his medical scans no longer showed any cancer.

On May 13, 2019, Carter broke his hip at his home in Plains. He underwent surgery the same day at the Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus, Georgia. Later that year on October 6, 2019, he took another fall and received bad cut on his forehead above his left eyebrow that required 14 stitches to close. He also had a black eye from the injury. On October 21, 2019, Carter was admitted to the Phoebe Sumter Medical Center after suffering a minor pelvic fracture he obtained after falling again at home for the third time in 2019. None of these injuries kept Carter down and he was able to resume teaching Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church on November 3, 2019. On November 11, 2019, Carter was hospitalized at the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for a procedure to relieve pressure on his brain, caused by bleeding believed to be connected to his falls. The surgery was successful, and Carter was released from the hospital on November 27. On December 2, 2019, Carter was readmitted to the hospital for a urinary tract infection but was released on December 4

Like a Timex watch, he keeps on ticking, making him the earliest-serving living former president, the oldest president ever to attend a presidential inauguration in 2017, at the age of 92, and the first to live over 40 years past the end of his own presidency. He is the nation's longest-lived president, and is now the first U.S. president to live to the age of 98. Last year former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in Plains. They were married on July 7, 1946. They held a reception to celebrate their 75th anniversary Saturday, July 10, 2021, in Plains. Attendees included former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as singer Garth Brooks.

On Friday, a large wooden "cake" was set up on the White House lawn to mark the occasion of President Carter's 99th birthday.

Picking A President: The Election of 1824

With the season for all candidates debates having begun, this month we'll look at some past contests among parties to select their candidate for president. We'll begin with the election of 1823 because it is unique for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is the only time in US presidential history when the candidate who received the most electoral votes was not selected as president. Secondly, it was an time when there really was only one party to choose a president from, that being the Democratic-Republican Party. The Federalist Party had lost almost all of their support because of their opposition to the War of 1812, and the Democratic-Republicans had controlled the White House since the war, with James Monroe winning the second of his two election victories unopposed.

But by 1824 divisions and faction emerged within the Democratic-Republicans, and five candidates from that party had their eyes on the Presidency. This process did not yet lead to formal political parties, but later the faction led by Andrew Jackson would evolve to become the Democratic Party, while the factions led by John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay would become the Whig Party.


The presidential election of 1824 is the only election to have been decided by the House of Representatives in accordance with the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution because no single candidate secures a majority of the electoral vote. It was also the only presidential election in which the candidate who received the most electoral votes did not become president. The election of 1824 is also the first (but not the last) in which the successful presidential candidate did not win the popular vote.

In 1824, the five serious contenders for the presidency were:

1. William H. Crawford, Secretary of the Treasury, nominated by a caucus of a minority of the Republican members of Congress.
2. John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, who held the second most prominent position in the American government at that time. Both James Madison and James Monroe had gone from State to the presidency.
3. Henry Clay, Speaker of the House.
4. Andrew Jackson, a military hero, former governor, and former senator, who was presented as the champion of the common man.
5. John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War and a rigid defender of states' rights. Calhoun would do the math and he eventually decided there was no way he could win the presidency against such tough competition and he dropped out of the race.

After the votes were counted, none of the candidates had received a majority of the Electoral votes. As some expected, and as the electoral map confirmed, the four main candidates each received regional or sectional support, but no candidate could garner a majority. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams won his electoral votes in the New England states. War hero Andrew Jackson was successful in a number of states throughout the nation and had the widest range of support. Kentucky Senator Henry Clay attracted votes from the west, and William Crawford of Georgia attracted votes from the east.

Andrew Jackson received more electoral and popular votes than any other candidate, but not a majority of the electoral votes. 131 votes were needed for a candidate to win the election. As no candidate received the required majority of electoral votes, the presidential election was decided by the House of Representatives, as decreed by the Constitution. The race for Vice-President was more decisive. John C. Calhoun easily defeated his rivals in the race for the vice-presidency, as he had the support of both the Adams and Jackson camps.


The lack of a clear winner of a majority of the electoral college votes put the outcome of the election in the hands of the House of Representatives. Although Jackson was the first place finisher, many were surprised when the House decided to pick John Quincy Adams over Jackson. Many people believed that Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House at the time, convinced Congress to elect Adams, and in return, Adams made Clay his Secretary of State. Jackson and his supporters denounced this as a "corrupt bargain." Whatever discussions took place in private behind the scenes are lost to history.

The "corrupt bargain" that placed Adams in the White House and Clay in the State Department launched a four-year campaign of revenge by the friends of Andrew Jackson, who claimed that the people had been cheated of their choice. Jacksonians attacked the Adams administration as illegitimate and tainted by aristocracy and corruption.

Adams and Clay insisted that the result was not a consequence of any "corrupt bargain". Supporters of this theory maintain that the anti-Jackson faction united behind Adams, who was the natural alternative to Jackson. Third place candidate William H. Crawford was in poor health and had no realistic chance of winning the House vote.


Regardless of the various theories concerning the matter, John Quincy Adams was a one-term President, and his rival, Jackson, was elected President by a large majority of the Electors in the election of 1828, the first of two consecutive terms he would serve as president.

Today, as the outcome of the current election remains uncertain, having another election decided by the House of Representatives remains a remote possibility, though talk of a third party candidate from the "No Labels" movement makes this theoretically conceptual. Even with just two candiates receiving votes, if results end up very close, the potential for "faithless electors"to cast their electoral votes for a third candidate (as occurred in 2016) could potentially result in no candidate acquiring the requisite 270 electoral college votes. While this appears highly unlikely, it remains a possibility that lives in the imaginations of students of presidential history.

Presidents and the Courts: Ronald Reagan Appoints the First Female Supreme Court Justice

During the election campaign of 1980, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan made a pledge that he would appoint the first female Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Richard Nixon had tried to do so during his term, but he was unable to decide upon a nominee satisfactory to both himself and has party. This achievement was left to Ronald Reagan in 1991.


On July 7, 1981, Reagan announced that he would nominate Sandra Day O'Connor. then a Justice of the Arizona State Court of Appeals, as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, to replace the retiring Potter Stewart. O'Connor received word of her nomination from President Reagan on the day prior to the announcement. She did not know that she was a finalist for the position. Reagan formally nominated O'Connor on August 19, 1981.

Pro-life and religious groups opposed O'Connor's nomination because they believed that she would not be willing to overturn Roe v Wade. A number of conservative Republican Senators, including Don Nickles of Oklahoma, Steve Symms of Idaho, and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, called the White House to express their discontent over the nomination. Nickles tole Reagan that he and "other profamily Republican senators" would not support O'Connor's nomination.

O'Connor was very professional and very cool and refused to state her views on abortion. In her interview with the President, she told Reagan she did not remember whether she had supported the view of repealing Arizona's law banning abortion. When she was an Arizona State Senator in 1970, she had voted in favor of a bill to repeal the state's criminal-abortion statute. In 1974, she opposed a measure to prohibit abortions in some Arizona hospitals.

Reagan's diary entry on July 6, 1981 reads as follows:

"Called Judge O'Connor and told her she was my nominee for supreme court. Already the flak is starting and from my own supporters. Right to Life people say she is pro abortion. She says abortion is personally repugnant to her. I think she'll make a good justice."

On September 21, O'Connor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 99–0. Senator Max Baucus of Montana was absent for the decision, and he sent O'Connor a copy of the book "A River Runs Through It" with an apology for missing the vote.

In her first year on the Court she received over 60,000 letters from the public, more than any other justice in history. In a number of speeches which she later gave, she mentioned feeling some relief from the media clamor when Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined her as an Associate Justice of the Court in 1993.

Following is a YouTube video of President Reagan announcing the nomination of Justice O'Connor:

O'Connor would serve on the court for over 24 years. During her retirement, she reflected on her time on the Supreme Court by saying that she regretted the Court hearing the Bush v. Gore case in 2000 because it "stirred up the public" and "gave the Court a less-than-perfect reputation." She the Chicago Tribune that "Maybe the Court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.' 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."

Presidents and the Courts: The Teapot Dome Scandal

The Teapot Dome scandal was an incident involving bribery that took place during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. It occurred in 1922 and 1923, but did not come to light until after Harding's death in August of 1923.


The scandal concerned an oil reserve in Wyoming that was covered by a teapot-shaped rock formation. For many years, measures were taken to ensure the availability of petroleum reserves, especially for the Navy's use. In the early 20th century, after naval ships converted from coal to oil for fuel, several oil-producing areas had been designated as Naval Oil Reserves by President Taft. In 1921, Harding issued an executive order that transferred control of Teapot Dome Oil Field in Natrona County, Wyoming, and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in Kern County, California from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. This was not implemented until 1922, when Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall persuaded Navy Secretary Edwin C. Denby to transfer control. On February 23, 1923, Harding issued Executive Order # 3797, which created the Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4 in Alaska. The reserve system was intended to keep the oil under government jurisdiction rather than subject to private claims. Management of these reserves had become the subject of a turf war between the Navy and the Department of the Interior. The strategic reserves issue was also a subject of controversy between conservationists and the petroleum industry, as well as those who favored public ownership versus private control.

Harding's Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, had been a US Senator from New Mexico. He came to his new position with significant political and legal experience, as well as heavy personal debt. Ideologically, he was an avid supporter of the private ownership and management of reserves.

Fall contracted with Edward Doheny of Pan American Corporation to build storage tanks in exchange for drilling rights at Elk Hills. It later came to light that Doheny had made significant personal loans to Fall. Fall also negotiated leases for the Teapot Dome reserves to Harry Sinclair of the Consolidated Oil Corporation and its subsidiary Mammoth Oil in return for guaranteed oil reserves to the credit of the government. Sinclair had also personally made concurrent cash payments of over $400,000 to Fall. The leased Navy petroleum reserves were located at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and at two other locations in California to private oil companies. The leases were negotiated at low rates and without competitive bidding.

The lease terms were very favorable to the oil companies. Secretly, Fall had received a no-interest loan from Doheny of $100,000 (about $1.32 million today) in November 1921. He received other gifts from Doheny and Sinclair totaling about $404,000 (about $5.34 million today). It was this money changing hands that was illegal, not the leases. Fall attempted to keep his actions secret, but the sudden improvement in his standard of living raised suspicion.

In 1922 and 1923, the leases became the subject of investigation. In April 1922, a Wyoming oil operator wrote to Senator John B. Kendrick, and complained that Sinclair had been given a contract to the lands in a secret deal. Two days later on April 15, Kendrick introduced a resolution calling for an investigation of the deal. Republican Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr. of Wisconsin led an investigation by the Senate Committee on Public Lands. At first, La Follette believed Fall was innocent, but his suspicions deepened after his own office in the Senate Office Building was ransacked.

Democratic Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana, led a lengthy inquiry. No evidence of wrongdoing was initially uncovered because the leases were legal. But records kept disappearing mysteriously. The troubling question remaining unanswered was how Fall had become so rich so quickly and easily. During the hearings, Fall said "Sir, if you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and my straw reaches across the room, I’ll end up drinking your milkshake."

Money from the bribes had gone to Fall's cattle ranch and investments in his business. Finally, as the investigation was winding down with Fall apparently innocent, Walsh discovered evidence of Doheny's $100,000 loan to Fall. This discovery broke the scandal open. Civil and criminal suits related to Teapot Dome continued throughout the 1920s. In 1927 the US Supreme Court ruled that the oil leases had been fraudulently obtained. The Court invalidated the Elk Hills lease in February 1927 and the Teapot Dome lease in October. Both reserves were returned to the Navy.

In 1929 Fall was convicted of accepting bribes from Doheny and of conspiracy. He was jailed for one year, making him the first Cabinet member to go to prison. Remarkably, Doheny was later charged with bribing Fall, but was acquitted of the charge.


The Teapot Dome scandal was regarded as the "greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics" up until Watergate. It damaged the public reputation of the Harding administration. An excellent book about the Teapot Dome scandal is Laton McCartney's 2008 book The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country.

Presidents and the Courts: Bush v. Gore

The outcome of the Presidential Election of 2000 remained uncertain for over a month after election day. It wasn't until December 12, 2000 that the Supreme Court of the United States released its decision in the landmark case of Bush v. Gore. The practical result of the case was that Florida's 25 electoral votes were awarded to Republican candidate George W. Bush, who then became the 43rd President of the United States.

The 2000 Presidential election took place on November 7, 2000. The election results were too close to call because it was uncertain which candidate had received the most votes in the state of Florida. The following day, on November 8, 2000, the Florida Division of Elections reported that Bush had won 48.8% of the vote in Florida, by a margin of victory of 1,784 votes. This margin was less than 0.5% of the votes cast, so state law required that an automatic machine recount had to occur. On November 10, with the machine recount finished in all but one county, Bush's margin of victory had decreased to 327. Florida's election laws allowed a candidate to request a county to conduct a manual recount. Gore requested manual recounts in four Florida counties: Volusia, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, all counties that traditionally voted Democratic. Gore did not request any recounts in counties that traditionally vote Republican.

The four counties began manual recounts. However, Florida law also required all counties to certify their election returns to the Florida Secretary of State within seven days of the election, and several of the counties conducting manual recounts did not believe they could meet this deadline. On November 14, the statutory deadline, the Florida Circuit Court ruled that the seven-day deadline was mandatory, but that the counties could amend their returns at a later date. The court also ruled that the Secretary of State, after "considering all attendant facts and circumstances," had discretion to include any late amended returns in the statewide certification. Before the 5 pm deadline on November 14, Volusia County completed its manual recount and certified its results. At 5 pm on November 14, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced that she had received the certified returns from all 67 counties, even though Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties were still conducting manual recounts.

Harris required any county seeking to make a late filing to submit to her, by 2 pm the following day, a written statement of the facts and circumstances justifying the late filing. Four counties submitted statements, and after reviewing the submissions Harris determined that none justified an extension of the filing deadline. She further announced that after she received the certified returns of the overseas absentee ballots from each county, she would certify the results of the presidential election on Sunday, November 26, 2000. On that date, she certified Bush the winner. The Democratic Party was unhappy with this result and litigation ensued.

On December 8, 2000, the Florida Supreme Court, by a 4-3 vote, ordered a statewide manual recount. The next day, December 9, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to stay the Florida recount. Justice Scalia stated in his reasons for staying the recount:

"It suffices to say that the issuance of the stay suggests that a majority of the Court, while not deciding the issues presented, believe that the petitioner has a substantial probability of success. The issue is not, as the dissent puts it, whether 'counting every legally cast vote can constitute irreparable harm.' One of the principal issues in the appeal we have accepted is precisely whether the votes that have been ordered to be counted are, under a reasonable interpretation of Florida law, 'legally cast votes.' The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner Bush, and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election. Count first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires."

The dissenters wrote:

"Counting every legally cast vote cannot constitute irreparable harm... Preventing the recount from being completed will inevitably cast a cloud on the legitimacy of the election."

The four dissenting justices argued that stopping the recount was an "unwise" violation of "three venerable rules of judicial restraint", namely respecting the opinions of state supreme courts, cautiously exercising jurisdiction when "another branch of the Federal Government" has a large measure of responsibility to resolve the issue, and avoiding making peremptory conclusions on federal constitutional law prior to a full presentation on the issue.

The oral argument in Bush v. Gore took place on December 11. A large number of protesters for both sides gathered in front of the Supreme Court building. Theodore Olson, a Washington, D.C. lawyer and future Solicitor General, delivered Bush's oral argument and New York lawyer David Boies argued for Gore. The Court had to resolve two different questions to fully resolve the case:

1. Were the recounts, as they were being conducted, constitutional?
2. If the recounts were unconstitutional, what is the remedy?

The court issued its decision the following day. Five justices agreed that December 12 (the date of the decision) was the deadline Florida had established for recounts (Justices Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas in support; Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens opposed). Justices Breyer and Souter wanted to remand the case to the Florida Supreme Court to permit that court to establish uniform standards of what constituted a legal vote and then manually recount all ballots using those standards.

Three justices (Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas) argued that the Florida Supreme Court had acted contrary to the intent of the Florida legislature. However, four justices (Breyer, Souter, Ginsburg, and Stevens) specifically disputed this in their dissenting opinions, and the remaining two Justices (Kennedy and O'Connor) declined to join Rehnquist's concurrence on the matter.

The practical result was that the result as certified by Kathleen Harris was upheld. Bush had won Florida and had been elected President of the United States.

Despite dissatisfaction with the decision, the final result likely matched the will of the voters of the state of Florida. In 2001, a group of news organizations, assisted by professional statisticians, examined numerous hypothetical ways of recounting all the Florida ballots. The study was conducted over a period of 10 months. The consortium examined 175,010 ballots that vote-counting machines had rejected. Under some methods, Al Gore would have emerged the winner; in others, George W. Bush. But in each one, the margin of victory was smaller than the 537-vote lead that state election officials ultimately awarded Bush. Under the strategy that Al Gore pursued at the beginning of the Florida recount - filing suit to force hand recounts in four predominantly Democratic counties - Bush would have kept his lead, according to the ballot review conducted by the consortium. The study concluded that if Florida's 67 counties had carried out the hand recount of disputed ballots ordered by the Florida Supreme Court on December 8, applying the standards that election officials said they would have used, Bush would have emerged the winner by 493 votes.

Presidents and the Courts: The United States v. Nixon

The United States v. Nixon is a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court that considered the issue of presidential power and its limits. The case, reported at 418 U.S. 683 (1974), was a unanimous 8–0 decision that went against President Richard Nixon and was an important part of the story of the Watergate scandal. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who had been nominated to that position by newly elected President Nixon in 1969, wrote the opinion for a unanimous court. The other members of the court who joined in that decision were Justices William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan, Potter Stewart, Byron White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun and Lewis F. Powell. Besides Burger, Blackmun and Powell were also appointed to the Court by Nixon during his first term. Associate Justice (later Chief Justice) William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee, recused himself from sitting on the case because he had previously served in the Nixon administration as Assistant Attorney-General.


The Watergate scandal began during the 1972 election campaign between Democratic Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and President Nixon when, on June 17, 1972, about five months before the general election, five burglars broke into Democratic headquarters located in the Watergate building complex in Washington, DC. The burglary was conducted with the knowledge of members of Nixon's "Committee to Re-elect the President" (or CREEP as it was pejoratively called). An issue arose as to whether or not the White House had knowledge of the burglary, and this in turn led to attempts to obstruct justice by keeping the burglars from informing. A cover-up soon developed.

In May 1973, Nixon's Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, appointed Archibald Cox to the position of special prosecutor, charged with investigating the break-in. In the course of the Watergate Hearings in the Senate, it was disclosed that Nixon had tape-recorded many of his conversations in the oval office and attempts were made to subpoena those recordings, something that Nixon resisted. In October Nixon had special prosecutor Cox fired in the what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. (Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney-General William Ruckelshaus refused to fire Cox and they resigned. The task was eventually carried out by Solicitor-General Robert Bork.). Public outrage and political pressure forced Nixon to appoint a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who was charged with conducting the Watergate investigation for the government.

In April 1974, Jaworski obtained a subpoena ordering Nixon to release certain tapes and papers related to specific meetings between the President and those indicted by the grand jury. Those tapes and the conversations they revealed were believed to contain damaging evidence involving Nixon and others. To try and control the damage, Nixon turned over edited transcripts of forty-three conversations, including portions of twenty conversations demanded by the subpoena. James D. St. Clair, Nixon's attorney, then requested Judge John Sirica of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to quash the subpoena.

Sirica denied Nixon's motion and ordered the President to turn the tapes over by May 31. Both Nixon and Jaworski appealed directly to the Supreme Court which heard arguments on July 8, 1974. Nixon's attorney argued the matter should not be subject to judicial review because the matter was a dispute within the executive branch and the branch should resolve the dispute itself. It was also argued that Special Prosecutor Jaworski had not proven the requested materials were necessary for the trial of those involved with the burglary. He argued that Nixon had an absolute executive privilege to protect communications between "high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in carrying out their duties."

The Court issued its decision on July 24, 1974. All of the justices contributed to the opinion, but Chief Justice Burger delivered the unanimous decision. The court held that this was a matter for judicial review and that Jaworski had proven a "sufficient likelihood that each of the tapes contains conversations relevant to the offenses charged in the indictment." The Court then went to the main issue of executive privilege. The Court rejected Nixon's claim to an "absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances."

The ruling was devastating to Nixon. What remaining political support he had quickly eroded. Nixon resigned fifteen days later, on August 9.

Presidents and the Courts: Ronald Reagan and Oliver North

The Iran–Contra affair was an incident that occurred during the second term of President Ronald Reagan in which senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran, a nation that was the subject of an arms embargo. These officials hoped that the arms sales would secure the release of several hostages and that U.S. intelligence agencies could use the sale proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. By an Act of Congress known as the Boland Amendment, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited.


The operation intended to free seven American hostages who were being held in Lebanon by a group with Iranian ties connected to the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution. The plan was for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, and then the United States would resupply Israel and receive the Israeli payment. The Iranian recipients promised in return to use their influence to bring about the release of the U.S. hostages. Modifications to the plan were devised by a National Security Council officer named Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North in late 1985, in which a portion of the proceeds from the weapon sales was diverted to fund anti-Sandinista and anti-communist rebels, known as the Contras, in Nicaragua.

President Ronald Reagan was a supporter of the Contra cause, but there is no clear evidence which suggests that he authorized the diversion of the money raised by arms sales to the Contras. Handwritten notes taken by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on December 7, 1985, suggest that Reagan was aware of potential hostage transfers with Iran, as well as the sale of missiles to moderate elements within Iran. When the weapon sales were revealed in November 1986, Reagan appeared on national television and stated that the weapons transfers had indeed occurred, but that the United States did not trade arms for hostages.

An investigation into the affair was impeded when large volumes of documents relating to these transactions were destroyed or withheld from investigators. On March 4, 1987, Reagan returned to the airwaves in a nationally televised address, taking full responsibility for the debacle, although he still maintained that this had all transpired without his knowledge or approval. He said "what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages".

Investigations were conducted by the U.S. Congress and by the three-person, Reagan-appointed Tower Commission. Neither found any evidence that President Reagan himself knew of the scheme to trade arms for hostages. Ultimately the sale of weapons to Iran was not found to be a criminal offense but charges were brought against five individuals for their support of the Contras. Those charges, however, were later dropped because the administration refused to declassify certain documents. In the end, fourteen administration officials were indicted, including then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Eleven convictions resulted, some of which were vacated on appeal. The rest of those indicted or convicted were all pardoned in the final days of the presidency of George H. W. Bush.

In the investigations, Colonel North claimed partial responsibility for the sale of weapons through intermediaries to Iran, with the profits being channeled to the Contras in Nicaragua. It was alleged that he was responsible for the establishment of a network which funneled those funds to the Contras, contrary to the Boland Amendment, which prohibited the appropriation of U.S. funds by intelligence agencies for the support of the Contras. The money was traced as passing through a shell organization, the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty, to the Palmer National Bank of Washington, D.C., and then to the Contras.

In an August 23, 1986, e-mail to National Security Adviser John Poindexter, North described a meeting with a representative of Panamanian president Manuel Noriega. North told Poindexter that if the U.S. could help Noriega "clean up his image” and lift the ban on arms sales to the Panamanian Defense Force, Noriega would “take care of the Sandinista leadership for us.” North allegedly proposed that Noriega be paid one million dollars in cash, from Project Democracy funds raised from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran—for the Panamanian leader’s help in destroying Nicaraguan economic installations.

In November 1986, when the sale of weapons was made public, North was fired by President Reagan. On February 11, 1987, the FBI discovered a plan to harm North’s family from the Peoples Committee for Libyan Students, a sleeper cell for the Islamic Jihad, with an order to kill North. North's family was moved to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and lived with federal agents until North retired from the Marine Corps the following year.

In July 1987, North was summoned to testify before televised hearings of a joint congressional committee that was formed to investigate Iran–Contra. During the hearings, North admitted that he had lied to Congress previously. He defended his actions by stating that he believed in the goal of aiding the Contras, whom he saw as freedom fighters, against the Sandinistas and said that he viewed the Iran–Contra scheme as morally defensible. North admitted shredding government documents related to his Contra and Iranian activities, at the suggestion of CIA Director William Casey, when the Iran–Contra scandal became public.

North was indicted on 16 felony counts, and on May 4, 1989, and he was initially convicted of three: accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and ordering the destruction of documents through his secretary, Fawn Hall. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell on July 5, 1989, to a three-year suspended sentence, two years probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours of community service.


On July 20, 1990, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, North’s convictions were vacated, after the appeals court found that witnesses in his trial might have been adversely affected by his immunized congressional testimony. Because North had been granted limited immunity for his congressional testimony, the law prohibited a prosecutor from using that testimony as part of a criminal case against him. To prepare for North's anticipated defense, the prosecution team had isolated themselves from news reports and discussion of North’s testimony. While the defense could show no specific instance in which North’s congressional testimony was used in his trial, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge had made an insufficient examination of the issue. Consequently, North’s convictions were reversed. After further hearings on the immunity issue, Judge Gesell dismissed all charges against North on September 16, 1991.

In 1994, North ran unsuccessfully for a US Senate seat in Virginia. He became a conservative commentator and author and briefly served as president of the National Rifle Association.

Presidents and the Courts: Hunter Biden's Legal Problems

Robert Hunter Biden is better known by his middle name. He is an attorney and businessman and has also been a hedge fund principal and a venture capital and private equity fund investor. He formerly worked as a banker, a lobbyist, and a legal representative for lobbying firms. He is also President Joe Biden's son.

In 1972, when Biden was just two years old, a car crash killed his mother and his one-year-old sister, Naomi. He and his older brother Beau were both seriously injured. Hunter Biden has admitted to struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, something which escalated after the death of his brother Beau in 2015, from brain cancer. A failed drug testled to his discharge from the U.S. Navy Reserve shortly after his commissioning. He is no stranger to controversy. Hunter Biden was a founding board member of BHR Partners, a Chinese investment company, in 2013. He served on the board of Burisma Holdings, one of the largest private natural gas producers in Ukraine, for five years from 2014 until his term expired in April 2019. This has led to allegations of corruption levelled against Hunter and his father. The allegations concern Hunter Biden's business dealings in Ukraine and speculation concerning Joe Biden's involvement.

The New York Post published an article in October 2020 about a laptop computer that had belonged to Hunter Biden. The story claimed that the laptop contained about 129,000 emails and other materials. Other media outlets declined to publish the story, because of that lack of a credible source. But later, in March of 2022 The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that some of the emails found on the computer were authentic. Biden's critics allege that the laptop contents exposed corruption by Hunter's father. However no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Joe Biden has been found. The Wall Street Journal later reported that Hunter Biden had abandoned his Apple laptop computer in a repair shop in Delaware in 2019, and that files circulating online were "purportedly" from the laptop, though they had no confirmation of this.

In December of 2020, Hunter Biden made a public announcement through his attorney that he was under federal criminal investigation concerning possible income tax charges. According to the New York Times and CNN, the investigation began in late 2018 and being related to potential violations of tax and money laundering laws as well as concerning his business dealings in China and other countries. A Senate Republicans' report alleges that millions of dollars in wire transfers from entities linked to a Chinese energy businessman named Ye Jianming were paying for such services. The New York Times reported that FBI investigators had been unable to establish sufficient evidence for a prosecution of potential money laundering crimes, even after the seizure of a laptop purportedly belonging to Biden. The New York Times also reported in May 2022 that Hollywood attorney and writer Kevin Morris lent Hunter Biden over $2 million to pay back taxes and to support his family.

The New York Times reported in March 2022 that, since 2018, Biden and possibly others had been under investigation by federal prosecutors in Delaware, with a grand jury convened to subpoena and hear evidence. The investigation examined payments and gifts Biden or his associates had received from foreign interests and whether Biden had violated the law by not registering as a lobbyist under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The Times claimed that it was in possession of copies of emails that were authenticated by people familiar with them and the investigation that appeared to come from a laptop belonging to Biden. One April 2014 email, written by Biden to his business partner, said that his father, then the vice president who would soon visit Kyiv, should "be characterized as part of our advice and thinking—but what he will say and do is out of our hands." The email also stated that Burisma officials "need to know in no uncertain terms that we will not and cannot intervene directly with domestic policymakers, and that we need to abide by FARA and any other U.S. laws in the strictest sense across the board." Biden added that his father's visit "could be a really good thing or it could end up creating too great an expectation. We need to temper expectations regarding that visit." He also wrote that his employer, the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, could help Burisma through "direct discussions at state, energy and NSC."

Other emails showed Biden and his business partner discussing inviting foreign business associates, including a Burisma executive, to attend an April 2015 dinner in Washington, where the vice president would be.

In October 2022, The Washington Post reported that federal agents had determined months ago that they had enough evidence for a viable criminal case against Biden to charge him with crimes related to making false declarations during a gun purchase, as well as tax-related crimes. It was then up to Delaware U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss, a who was appointed during the administration of President Donald Trump, to decide on whether or not to file such charges.

By April 2023, federal prosecutors were considering bringing four charges against Biden: two misdemeanor counts for failure to file taxes, a single felony count of tax evasion, and a charge related to a gun purchase. On June 20, 2023, in a deal reached with prosecutors, Biden agreed to plead guilty to only the two misdemeanor tax charges, and to enter a pretrial diversion program related to the gun charge. Prosecutors recommended two years of probation for the tax charges. The gun charge was to be dropped at the end of this period only if the conditions of the diversion program had been met successfully. Having the gun charge dropped was conditional on Biden remaining drug-free and never being allowed to own a firearm again. Biden's attorney claimed that the agreement with prosecutors "resolved" the investigation, while the Justice Department said the investigation was "ongoing."

In court on July 26, 2023, federal prosecutors explained that the "ongoing" aspect of the investigation referred to possible charges under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), legislation which requires that anyone who acts on the behalf of a foreign government must register with the Department of Justice and file regular reports on their activities for that government. On July 26, the plea deal was rejected by the presiding judge, who cited concerns over immunity Biden might receive from future charges. The judge gave 30 days to both the government prosecutors and Biden's defense team to provide additional information. As a result, Biden changed his plea from "guilty" to "not guilty".

On August 8, Weiss requested that he be appointed as a special counsel in the Biden investigation. Attorney general Merrick Garland granted that request and he announced the appointment on August 11. On the same day Weiss announced that the government and Biden attorneys could not reach agreement on a new plea deal. Earlier this month, on September 6, the Justice Department said that Weiss would ask a grand jury to return an indictment against Hunter Biden on a gun charge by September 29. On September 14, Biden was officially indicted in Delaware on three federal firearms-related charges: two for making false statements on a firearm application form and one for prohibited possession of a firearm. His plea, arraignment and potential trial date have not yet been set.

Presidents and the Courts: Dwight Eisenhower and the Case of the Rosenbergs

On February 11, 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to grant clemency to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were a New Jersey couple who were arrested and tried for spying on behalf the Soviet Union. Specifically they were charged under Section 2 of the Espionage Act of 1917 which prohibits transmitting or attempting to transmit to a foreign government information "relating to the national defense." They were convicted and given death sentences. After exhausting their appeals, pleas were made to President Eisenhower to commute their sentences. Eisenhower elected not to do so.

The trial of the Rosenbergs began on March 6, 1951 before Jude Irving Kaufman. The prosecutor was Irving Saypol and the attorney for the Rosenbergs was Emanuel Hirsch Bloch. The prosecution's primary witness was David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg's brother. He stated that his sister had typed notes containing U.S. nuclear secrets in the Rosenberg apartment in September 1945. He also testified that he turned over to Julius Rosenberg a sketch of the cross-section of an implosion-type atom bomb (the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.) The notes allegedly typed by Ethel apparently contained little that was relevant to the Soviet atomic bomb project and some suggest Ethel was indicted along with Julius so that the prosecution could use her to pressure Julius into giving up the names of others who were involved. However, neither Julius nor Ethel Rosenberg named anyone else and during testimony each asserted their right under the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment to not incriminate themselves whenever they were asked about involvement in the Communist Party or with its members.

David Greenglass testified that he passed the atomic data he'd collected to Julius in the living room of the Rosenberg's New York apartment and that at Julius's request, Ethel typed the notes up. Ruth Greenglass (Ethel's sister) said "Julius then took the info into the bathroom and read it and when he came out he called Ethel and told her she had to type this info immediately. Ethel then sat down at the typewriter which she placed on a bridge table in the living room and proceeded to type the info which David had given to Julius." Originally the prosecution was contemplating charges against Ruth Greenglass, but charges were not proceeded with against her in return for her testimony.

David Greenglass confessed to having passed secret information on to the Russians through a courier named Harry Gold. He claimed that Julius Rosenberg had convinced his sister-in-law Ruth Greenglass to recruit David while on a visit in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1944. He said Julius had passed secrets, and linked him and Ethel to the Soviet contact agent Anatoli Yakovlev.

The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and on April 5 were sentenced to death by Judge Irving Kaufman. The conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. While their devotion to the Communist cause was well-documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair.

After the publication of an investigative series in The National Guardian and the formation of the National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case, some Americans came to believe both Rosenbergs were innocent or at least that they had received too harsh a punishment. A grassroots campaign was started to try to stop the couple's execution. Between the trial and the executions there were widespread protests and claims of anti-semitism. Despite the charges of anti-semitism, the Rosenbergs did not receive any support from mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States, nor from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ike Oval Office

Many famous people of the time protested the proposed execution of the Rosenbergs, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Einstein Nobel-Prize-winning physical chemist Harold Urey, Jean Cocteau, Dashiell Hammett, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. The African-American membered labor union International Longshoremen’s Association Local 968 stopped working for a day in protest. Pope Pius XII appealed to President Eisenhower to spare the couple, but Eisenhower refused on February 11, 1953. All other appeals were also unsuccessful.

The Rosenbergs were executed at Sing-Sing Prison on June 19, 1953. The grand jury transcripts of this case were unsealed and released in 2008. They can be found at this link.