James A. Baker III on U.S. Supreme Court Decision
Monday, December 4, 2000
is the transcript of a news conference by Bush campaign adviser James A. Baker
III, former secretary of state, on Monday's Supreme Court decision on the election
BAKER: Good afternoon,
ladies and gentlemen.
Let me say, we are very
gratified by the United States Supreme Court's decision today. And in commenting
on it, let me be very clear: This decision was unanimous, this decision vacated
the Florida Supreme Court ruling, and it did so on the reservations that we
have expressed about this decision in the past.
The United States Supreme
Court has also remanded the case to the Florida court for further consideration,
as we all know. In so doing, it instructed the Florida court to consider and
resolve both of the grounds that we had raised in our appeal.
First, that a court's rewriting
of Florida's election laws during a presidential contest is prohibited by Article
II of the United States Constitution.
And second, that any construction
of the Florida election code deemed to be a change in the law after Election
Day could cost Florida's electors conclusive status and could be overturned
under the federal statute, Title 3, United States Code.
Any future decisions now
by the Florida courts must be made in compliance with the United States Supreme
Court decision, and any further action will be subject to United States Supreme
The legal effect of today's
decision is that the Florida courts must construe the election code to be consistent
not just with Florida law, but also with federal law and with the United States
Constitution. This is precisely what we argued before both the Florida and United
States supreme courts.
QUESTION: Mr. Baker, do
you believe there is a new total for George W. Bush? And is it the November
14 or November 17 total?
BAKER: I don't think I
can answer that question for you. I think much will depend upon what the Florida
Supreme Court now does with the case on remand. But let me simply say for you
that, if there is a new total, it moves up, it doesn't move down, and we're
ahead under both scenarios.
QUESTION: The Democratic
response has been that if this was a baseball game this was a rain out. They
just threw it back; it has no legal significance to what is going on. Your reaction?
BAKER: The Democratic response
is this was a rain out? If it was a baseball analogy, this was a rain out? Well,
I suppose then, under that analogy, there never was supposed to be a game in
the first place, because they told you that the United States Supreme Court
would never take this case, much less send it back and vacate the judgment of
the Florida Supreme Court.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary,
I'd like to follow up on that. What David Boies had to say was basically that
this is neither a win nor a loss for either side. Basically, what the U.S. Supreme
Court is asking for is a clarification from the state Supreme Court.
BAKER: I think what I would
say on that issue is that the United States Supreme Court, as I mentioned in
my remarks, addressed the two grounds that we had argued it before the Florida
Supreme Court and in the United States Supreme Court as being grounds for review.
And they said, in effect, that the Florida Supreme Court's opinion was very
unclear on these two issues, and sent the case back to them to consider the
very issues that formed the basis of our appeal.
So I would argue to you
that, from our standpoint at least, it was a win. They vacated the judgment
of the Florida Supreme Court, and, yes, the Florida Supreme Court will have
the opportunity to reconsider its opinion.
But when you look back,
and you were in this room as I was on November the 8th or on November the 9th,
when people were saying, "What in the world are you doing appealing or, number
one, filing a defensive suit in federal court, and, secondly, appealing this
case to the United States Supreme Court? They will never take the case." Not
only have they taken the case, they have vacated the judgment of the lower court
and remanded the case for consideration in accordance with their opinion.
QUESTION: Will you be arguing
before Judge Sauls that this should in any way change the basis for him reaching
a decision in the contest case?
BAKER: I think that in
the contest case the point has already been made by our attorneys, with respect
to the question of whether or not the time lines, the deadlines for the filing
of a contest, have been properly met. I think that issue has already been raised
in the contest case.
QUESTION: I want to make
sure that I understand the Bush position clearly. Are you saying that this Supreme
Court decision should mean that Judge Sauls should not -- reinforces your argument
that there should be no recount?
BAKER: We have not made
that argument in the case before Judge Sauls, but we have, as I understand it,
made the argument that the contest was not properly filed, that the timing was
such that it was not properly filed.
Now, if this case impacts
on that, and I'm not in a position to tell you today that it definitely does,
but if it impacts on that, it would impact on it in a way that's favorable to
QUESTION: Is this enough
of a win where you could tell the Florida legislature, "Hey, stay out of this
thing. The courts are going our way"?
BAKER: I think what the
Supreme Court said in its opinion is that the Constitution is very clear about
the paramount duty of the legislatures of the various states in the selecting
of electors. That's another thing that is expressly referred to here in the
Supreme Court opinion. So I wouldn't think that that would be a course that
we would now follow.
I think what's important
is to wait and see what the Florida Supreme Court now does with this case on
remand, see how they change, if they do, their opinion to meet the fundamental
requirements of fairness and the United States Constitution and federal law.
Thank you very much.