RBG on the Bush v. Gore Dissents

May 2nd, 2014

Jess Bravin highlights an interesting aspect of the 4 separate Bush v. Gore dissents during an interview with Justice Ginsburg:

In contrast, the liberal bloc has been strikingly unified in presenting an alternative view of the law.

“We have made a concerted effort to speak with one voice in important cases,” Justice Ginsburg said. Meetings among the liberals have lasted as long as three hours to find “a uniform approach we could all feel comfortable with.”

The importance of “one dissent instead of four” was driven home by Bush v. Gore, she said, when the court moved quickly in December 2000 to accept, hear and decide the suit Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush filed to stop Florida from counting votes. While the five conservatives issued a single, unsigned opinion siding with Mr. Bush (along with a three-justice concurrence adding additional reasons), each of the four liberals filed a separate dissent.

“That happened because there was no time,” Justice Ginsburg said. “They took the case one day, briefs the next day, oral argument the next day, opinions the next day.”

And then Justice Stevens left town for his Florida condo. “There was just no time for the four of us to get together.” Regardless of its consequences, few scholars of any stripe consider Bush v. Gore, with its six separate majority and dissenting opinions, a model of clarity.

Even though dissents have no force of law, Justice Ginsburg said crafting them with clarity and cohesion is essential for the long game of constitutional law.