The case was first taken up on 1 December after the Bush campaign appealed to the high court after the Florida Supreme Court's more liberal judges ordered the recount process in Florida to proceed. On 4 December, the court nullified the decision of the Florida Supreme Court saying that the court's decision to bypass state election laws, which stated that results had to be certified by a certain date, was dubious at best saying that there was "considerable uncertainty" as to the precise grounds for their ruling.
The decision, handed down around 10pm on 12 December 2000 for the split 5-4 court, was written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas concurring and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy in the majority. Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens dissented.
The case determined that the Florida recount was being conducted unconstitutionally and in the majority opinion noted significant problems in the uneven way the votes were being recounted. Seven of the nine justices agreed that the recount was not constitutional but the minority dissented on the remedy. A 5-4 majority ruled that no constitutionally valid recount could be completed by the 12 December deadline set in statute, effectively ending the recounts. The court cited differing vote-counting standards from county to county and the lack of a single judicial officer to oversee the recount, both of which it ruled violated the equal-protection clause of the United States Constitution.
The case was shrouded in controversy as the majority versus minority opinion was split along the lines of the more conservative justices voting in favor of Bush and the more liberal justicies voting in favor of Gore. Additionally, part of the reason recounts could not be completed was due to various stoppages ordered by the various branches and levels of the judiciary.
The minority dissents noted these issues and others including the principle of fairness, and the conflicting laws which could be interpreted as invalidating the 12 December deadline. It appears the minority would have wished to allow the recount to continue up until the college of electors were mandated to meet on 18 December.