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Black Democrats angered by Supreme Court ruling

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Black voters and elected officials, one of the most loyal constituencies in the Democratic Party, expressed outrage Wednesday at the U.S. Supreme Court decision that appears to have ended Al Gore's presidential aspirations.

The Supreme Court ruling Tuesday night all but killed any hope that Gore could overcome Texas Gov. George W. Bush's narrow lead in Florida -- and claim the 25 electoral votes needed to win the White House. Longtime civil rights leader Jesse Jackson angrily denounced the Supreme Court decision at a Tallahassee rally Wednesday, telling a crowd that the justices short-circuited democracy by ruling against a manual recount in the state.

At a rally attended by about 250 union members, blacks and other Democratic loyalists, Jackson said, "The election was essentially taken and stolen. You must get your votes in the public booth, not the private chambers of judges who are your political allies."

"Today, the emperor has no clothes and no shame," he added.

Jesse Jackson
Jackson: "The Department of Justice fought for Elian. They did not fight for disenfranchised voters in Florida."  

Black voters in Florida and around the country turned out in record numbers on November 7. Since then, many have complained that Florida election officials removed large numbers of minorities from state voting rolls, wrongly classifying them as convicted felons -- and accused Florida officials of using police to intimidate voters in some areas. Jackson cited the reports of students from historically black colleges in Florida, who have said they went to the polls carrying voter identification cards and were told they were not on the voter rolls.

Though the U.S. Civil Rights Commission will hold hearings on the complaints, Jackson accused the U.S. Justice Department of refusing to investigate reports of voter harassment.

The Florida Supreme Court had ordered a hand recount of all ballots where mechanical counts had registered no vote for president. Many of those "undervotes" came from majority-black precincts, heavily Democratic, where aging punch-card ballots failed to record votes for president in mechanical counts.

"The basic idea is that the recount had some imperfections, some genuine imperfections. That's absolutely right," said Yale University law professor Akhil Amar, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. But, he added, "The underlying count itself was probably infected with much greater inequalities -- inequalities that actually had racially disparate impacts and that disproportionally hurt people in poor precincts."

NAACP President Kwesi Mfume, a former Democratic congressman, said Wednesday the Supreme Court had "handed over" the presidency to Bush, and his legitimacy would always be in doubt as a result.

"People of color are more energized and angrier than ever to make sure they are not counted out again," Mfume told reporters.

 VIDEO
Rev. Jesse Jackson says Bush doesn't have moral authority to be president. CNN's Bill Delaney has an interview (December 13)

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The court's 7-2 opinion concluded that the recounts would violate the Constitutional guarantees of equal protection under law, since the counts were being conducted under different standards in different counties. The court returned the case to the Florida Supreme Court for a remedy, but five justices concluded that the time for a recount had expired Tuesday night -- the deadline for naming presidential electors.

Jackson compared the decision to the infamous 19th-century rulings upholding slavery and later, segregation. Before the ruling, he had predicted a vote against the recount would "incite a massive civil rights rebellion" and warned it would undercut the legitimacy of a Bush presidency.

"He will be the president legally, but he does not have moral authority because his crown does not come from the people," Jackson told CNN after the event. "It comes from the judges."

Jackson planned to speak at a similar rally Thursday in Memphis -- at the Lorraine Motel, the scene of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 assassination.

Despite a display of diversity at the party's national convention and the support of prominent blacks like retired Gen. Colin Powell, Bush drew less than 10 percent of the African-American vote. Black and Hispanic caucus leaders in the House of Representatives are particularly upset and are urging Gore not to back down, Democratic Chairman Joe Andrew told CNN on Wednesday.

Pennsylvania Rep. Chakah Fattah called the decision "out of step with a century of American progress" toward voting rights. And Jackson's son, Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., said he disagreed with it "with every bone in my body and every ounce of moral strength in my soul."

"I see this decision as a potential threat to our democracy and potentially destabilizing to our democratic institutions," he said.

The ruling has many in the more liberal wing of the Democratic party laying plans to oust top Republicans -- including Florida's Gov. Jeb Bush, the GOP nominee's brother. Lois Frankel, the Democratic House minority leader in Florida, said core Democratic constituencies need to turn their anger at the results into action in the 2002 elections.

"Let's take our energy. We're going to fix those machines, we're going to register those voters, we are going to learn to vote right and come two years, we will leave no chad behind," Frankel said.

CNN Correspondent Bill Delaney, CNN.com Writer Matt Smith and Reuters contributed to this report.


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Wednesday, December 13, 2000

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