Text: Baker's Reaction to Fla. Supreme
Tuesday, November 21, 2000
Following is the
transcript of Bush adviser former Secretary of State James A. Baker III's news
conference on the Florida Supreme Court's opinion.
JAMES A. BAKER III: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
At Monday's oral argument before the Florida Supreme Court, Justice Harding
asked a key question about Florida's electoral laws and standards. He said,
"Is it right to change the rules in the middle of the game?"
The Florida Supreme Court and some Democratic county electoral boards have
decided to do just that. In keeping with Section 4 of Article II of the United
States Constitution, Florida's legislature enacted a detailed statutory system
for voting, for recounting, and for certifying results of elections. This statutory
system reflects careful decisions about the separation of powers among various
branches of government. It also strikes a balance between Florida's interests
in achieving finality, and in permitting multiple recounts by various methods.
Today, Florida's Supreme Court rewrote the legislature's statutory system,
assumed the responsibilities of the executive branch, and side-stepped the opinion
of the trial court as the finder of fact.
Two weeks after the election, that court has changed the rules, and has invented
a new system for counting the election results. So one should not now be surprised
if the Florida legislature seeks to affirm the original rules.
In addition, the Gore campaign is working to try to change the counting rules
and standards in the three counties that are still manually recounting so as
to overcome Governor Bush's continuing lead after all of the counts and recounts.
Statistical experts have indicated that, based on the results so far, unless
the counting standards are changed, there won't be enough votes to overcome
Governor Bush's lead. So they now argue that a punch card vote should count
even if there appears to be only an indentation.
This is, of course, is the famous dimpled chad.
And at least one of the Democratic-controlled county election boards has already
decided to use this new standard and the others are considering it.
No hole in the ballot is necessary, not even one loose corner is necessary,
not even seeing any light through the ballot is necessary. Even if a voter decided
not to make a choice because he or she could not decide between two closely
competitive candidates, the Democratic county election boards can divine a choice
based on an apparent indentation.
This new standard for manual recounts directly contradicts a guideline issued
on November 2, 1990 by Theresa LePore, the Democratic supervisor of elections
for Palm Beach County. In that statement, Ms. LePore wrote, and I quote, "but
a chad that is fully attached, bearing only an indention, should not be counted
as a vote," close quote.
All of this is unfair and unacceptable. It is not fair to change the election
laws of Florida by judicial fiat after the election has been held. It is the
not fair to change the rules and standards governing the counting or recounting
of votes after it appears that one side has concluded that is the only way to
get the votes it needs. And it is also not fair to refuse the count even once
the ballots of many of our servicemen and-women overseas. It is simply not fair,
ladies and gentlemen, to change the rules, either in the middle of the game,
or after the game has been played.
Therefore we intend to examine and consider whatever remedies we may have
to correct this unjust result.
QUESTION: Secretary Baker, first of all, can you be more specific about
what the Bush team might do now in the way of an appeal or some other challenge?
And second of all, when you alluded to the Florida legislature, what relief
would you seek from the Florida legislature?
BAKER: Well, I'm not suggesting that we are seeking relief--we've made
a decision to seek relief from the Florida legislature. But it does occur to
me that the Supreme Court has pretty well rewritten the Florida electoral code
even though they disclaim, in the opinion, that they intend to do so. And so
I would not be surprised to see the legislature want to, perhaps, take action
to get back to the original statutory provisions that were in place initially.
I cannot tell you specifically tonight what additional actions Governor Bush
and Secretary Cheney might authorize.
There are some actions that we can take. And as I indicated in my statement,
I think it's incumbent upon us to consider and examine whatever remedies are
available to us to reverse what we consider to be an unjust result.
QUESTION: If the legislature...
BAKER: Just a minute; I've got a question right here.
QUESTION: If the legislature takes this up, would the Bush campaign
support that, condone it?
BAKER: Depends on what they take up.
QUESTION: But if they take up a remedy as--I guess, I've heard some
members talk about setting the standard. Earlier a state senator said that he
felt the Supreme Court was essentially trying to undo what the legislature did.
BAKER: I think that...
QUESTION: And that's what you're saying.
BAKER: I think the legislature--some people in the legislature probably
feel that the court has undone the statutory provisions that were laid out in
compliance with the U.S. Constitution for the conduct of the election in Florida.
QUESTION: So if the Republican-controlled legislature then writes a
bill that would redo it, would the Bush campaign support and endorse that?
BAKER: Well, I think we'd have to see what the bill said before I could
answer that question for you. We'd have to see what it said. I can't give you
a carte blanche answer here today.
QUESTION: If you're behind on Sunday at 5 p.m.--if the vote total puts
you behind, would you not accept those results?
BAKER: Well, I don't know. I'm going to give you the same answer that
you've been getting from the Gore campaign for--since the 8th of November: All
options have to remain on the table. We have to see what the situation is at
QUESTION: As (inaudible) pointed out, you've been involved in many
presidential campaigns; this one looks like it's ending in a court room. I wonder,
you think that's a sign of the times, and is that troubling to you?
BAKER: Yes, it does a little bit; it troubles me as I indicated right
here in this room on November the 8th. But I've never been involved in any that
were quite as much of a dead heat as this one. But I think it is--I think it
On the other hand, we are a resilient nation and our Constitution and laws
provide for remedies and actions and procedures in the event that a very close
election like this happens. And therefore, I think it's important that we look
at those and examine them and consider whether or not to move on any one or
more of them.
QUESTION: Is the governor prepared to meet with the vice president
BAKER: You know I've talked to Governor Bush today probably three times,
maybe four, but I have not talked to him since the vice president appeared on
television and that's a decision that Governor Bush will make.
QUESTION: You said, Secretary Baker, that this is unfair and unacceptable.
Would you assign political motives to the justices?
BAKER: I haven't done that. I think that I have said here that I believe
that they have, in effect, rewritten the electoral laws of Florida after the
contest, after the election has been held.
And I have said that they have taken over, I believe, the functions of the
executive branch in Florida. I believe that they have disregarded the principle
of separation of powers.
They are, in effect, telling the secretary of state that she must accept certain
returns and eliminating the discretion that the Florida statutes give her.
I'm not assigning political motives, but I saying what I said in my statement.
I think that they're--I think that the opinion, in those two respects, clearly
overreaches and I'm sorry I have to say that, but that's my view.
QUESTION: If I may follow-up, if I may follow-up. So are you saying
that you don't believe that they're politically motivated, just that you disagree
with their interpretation of the law?
BAKER: Well, I think they've done more than interpret the law, and
I suppose we disagree with the actions that they've taken which go beyond interpreting
the law, in our opinion.
QUESTION: The opinion clearly states how they've come to their ruling...
BAKER: Clearly states what? I didn't hear you.
QUESTION: It clearly states how they reached their decision, and they
lay out that certain laws supersede others, that it must be written--that it
must be taken in its entirety. It's not a rewriting of the law at all.
BAKER: I think that the opinion is written is a manner that it gives
great--it gives great lip service to the principle that they are just interpreting
the laws. They say in a number of places there: "We must leave this to the legislature
But no one can deny that they change the statutory scheme for the conduct
of Florida's elections, and no one can deny that they usurp the executive branch's
functions as far as the secretary of state is concerned.
I don't think many people would really argue that forcefully.
QUESTION: Have the campaign, or Governor George W. Bush, consulted
at all with Florida legislative leaders about that...
BAKER: The legislative--I haven't. I certainly haven't and I don't
know--and I'm sure Governor Bush has not.
I can't tell you about everybody at the campaign. And--nor can I tell you--nor
could I answer the other question here: Would we support action that the legislature
takes carte blanche?
We would have to know what the action was.
QUESTION: Mr. Boies was here earlier. He stated that he felt there
was no basis for an appeal in this evening's decision. Would you like to comment
BAKER: Well, I suppose if we--if we determined to perfect an appeal
to the United States Supreme Court, a decision that we have not as yet made,
we would disagree with that, or we wouldn't perfect the appeal.
I thought I also heard Mr. Boies say that they court relied upon an Illinois
case which, in effect, blessed the standards--blessed the idea of using--of
counting dimpled chads. I thought I heard that; maybe I misinterpreted that.
But if that's what he said, I would disagree with that. The Illinois case
cited on page 36 or 39--I don't know which it is, but it was the Hartke case--didn't
talk about dimpled chads at all. It involved hanging chads, the standard that
these three counties or four counties, began using and the standard that they're
not seeking to change. They're seeking to move from that standard to a more
restrictive one--I mean, sorry, more liberal one, being the dimpled chad.
QUESTION: Mr. Baker, there was some talk earlier when Mr. Boies was
speaking about the possibility of the Republicans--your team--asking certain
counties in Florida to go back and do a manual recount, just try to crank it
out and get it done by Sunday.
Do you support that? Have you talked about that as a possibility?
BAKER: I can't answer for you tonight whether that would be one of
the remedies that I mentioned in my remarks.
QUESTION: Can you rule it out?
BAKER: Well, I don't think could--I wouldn't want to rule anything
out. But I certainly can't rule it in either. It's something that we would have
to simply give some consideration to.
Let me just say one final word and then I've got--really have got to go. There
has been a lot of talk about the Texas manual recount provision. If we were
in Texas this would all be over because Texas only allows one manual recount.
And it has some very, very clear and objective standards.
And the first of those is when you see light coming through, and the second
of those is where you have two corners or where you have a hanging chad. And
it's only in the third instance that the statute in Texas speaks about any consideration
of a dimpled chad, and it doesn't say that a dimpled chad can be considered
standing alone. It says it can be considered only where it also is accompanied
by a clearly ascertainable intent of the voter to vote.
So there's a lot of difference between that statute and what's taking place
here. And I think it's important that I point that out.
Thank you all very much.