Bush Campaign Adviser James A. Baker III
Friday, December 8, 2000
is the transcript of Bush campaign senior adviser James A. Baker III announcing
the campaign will appeal the Florida Supreme Court decision ordering manual
BAKER: Good evening,
ladies and gentlemen.
I know I don't need to
tell you that this has been a rather eventful day here in Tallahassee. Two circuit
court opinions throwing out challenges to absentee ballots in Seminole and Martin
counties, a federal judge ordering the county of overseas absentee ballots in
many counties that were not counted for technical reasons. And, of course, the
disappointing 4-3 decision of the Florida Supreme Court just announced, which
will require manually recounting tens of thousands of non-votes and undervotes
in all Florida counties that have not yet had a manual recount, and trying to
do so by December the 12th.
This is what happens when,
for the first time in modern history, a candidate resorts to lawsuits to try
to overturn the outcome of an election for president. It is very sad. It is
sad for Florida. It is sad for the nation. And it is sad for our democracy.
Today's ruling by four
justices of the Florida Supreme Court is, of course, a disappointment. Its reasoning
and result place the court once again at odds with sound judgments of Florida's
lower courts, the Florida legislature, local election officials, and at least
in our view, the United States Supreme Court. This action will unfortunately
produce ongoing uncertainty and it could ultimately disenfranchise Florida's
votes in the Electoral College.
The ruling of the Florida
court's four justices is flawed in much the same way, we think, as its November
21 ruling that was vacated unanimously by the United States Supreme Court.
Let me read you what Chief
Justice Wells said in part of his dissent today. He said, ``I believe that the
majority's decision cannot withstand the scrutiny which will certainly immediately
follow under the United States Constitution.
"The majority's decision
to return this case to the circuit court for a recount"--I'm sorry--"for a count
of the undervotes from either Miami-Dade County or all counties, has no foundation
in the law of Florida as it existed on November 7, 2000 or at any time until
the issuance of this opinion."
He's further said, "The
prolonging of judicial process in this counting contest propels this country
and this state into an unprecedented and unnecessary constitutional crisis.
I have to conclude," he said, "that there is a real and present likelihood that
this constitutional crisis will do substantial damage to our country, to our
state and to this court as an institution."
That was Chief Justice Wells
of the Florida Supreme Court in his dissent.
Obviously, we agree with
the three justices who dissented from the action of the other four. We think
this ruling is inconsistent with Florida law, with federal law and with the
United States Constitution.
Therefore, we have no alternative
other than appeal once again to the Supreme Court of the United States for relief.
We have already put in motion the process to do that.
QUESTION: The chief
justice used the words "constitutional crisis." If this court ruling stands,
is it Governor Bush's position that this would create a constitutional crisis?
BAKER: Well, the
chief justice said it would create a constitutional crisis. At the very least
it creates sufficient uncertainty that I don't think that anyone could assure
you that there is any certainty whatsoever that Florida's electors will have
the benefit of the conclusive presumption provided by Title 3, Section 5, of
the United States Code with respect to whether or not they could be challenged
if the issue every came up. And the end game has to take place by the 12th of
December for Florida's electors to have the benefit of that conclusive presumption.
QUESTION: Do you
see this decision then as somehow apart from the others, that there's been a
change here, as opposed to that you really see now that we've on the verge of
a crisis if this is not over with?
BAKER: I don't think
it's quite as important what I think as maybe what the chief justice of the
Florida Supreme Court said. He's the one who said that. Obviously we will, it
seems to me, have a difficult time knowing by December the 12th whether or not
the actions that are called for by the four justices can be concluded. And if
they're not concluded by that time there's a serious possibility that Florida's
electors will not be entitled to that conclusive presumption.
Aren't we going to be in the same situation then of having votes not counted?
BAKER: I think it's
very likely that we will be in the same position of having votes not counted.
We will also be in the same position that faced Judge Sauls below and that faced
the Supreme Court in this appeal, and that is, the provision of Florida law
that says a partial recount cannot be accepted.
But as my statement indicated
to you, we think we're in the same position we were before the case went up
from the Florida Supreme Court to the United States Supreme Court the first
time. The law of Florida as outlined by the legislature before the election
has been changed in order to--it would have to be--in order to give effect to
the actions that have been ordered today by the Florida Supreme Court.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary,
have you spoken to Governor Bush?
BAKER: I have spoken
to Governor Bush several times today. I spoke to him early this morning. I spoke
to him after the results of the Seminole and Martin County cases were announced.
And I've spoken to him in
the aftermath of the Supreme Court's four-to-three decision. And, obviously,
he was a good bit with after the Seminole and Martin decisions than he was after
the four-to-three decision for the same reasons that I've just outlined here
But Governor Bush is in
fine spirits and quite prepared to see this through to its ultimate conclusion,
because he feels very confident that he has won this election and won it more
than one time. As a matter of fact, right here in Florida over a count, a recount,
a manual recount and perhaps another recount.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary,
from the state lawmakers, the Republicans believe this decision is politically
based, not legally based. Do you agree?
BAKER: I've criticized
the decision here and I've tried to do so in temperate terms on the basis of
the law, because I think it can be criticized on the basis of the law. I do
not suggest that it is politically based and I do not criticize it on political
grounds. I think it is very vulnerable on legal grounds for the reasons I've
QUESTION: Have you
been directly in touch with members of the Florida legislature? And if so, does
this now lend more urgency to what...
BAKER: Well, let
me tell you, I haven't talked to anybody in the Florida legislature that I know
is in the Florida legislature, other than I was introduced, I think very briefly,
over in the offices where we were working, maybe on the 9th or 10th of November,
when I first got down here, to Senator McKay. I never met the speaker, and I've
never talked to anybody else in the Florida legislature.
But I want to suggest to
you that somehow the idea that it's inappropriate for us to talk to Florida
legislators who happen to be of the same party, or opposing party, I don't understand
that. There's no reason, particularly since the Constitution itself--the United
States Constitution--is what provides for the possibility of action by the legislature.
The legislature is going
to do whatever the legislature decides to do, but this certainly does create
a great deal more uncertainty.
And I would refer you also
to the United States Supreme Court's opinion sending this case back--the first
case back--to the Florida Supreme Court, when they themselves said the legislature
has plenary powers in these matters.
But in terms of my being
in close contact with legislators, no, I'm not.
Baker, one quick thing. We are told now, that the Bush campaign has filed an
emergency appeal at the 11th Circuit Court. Can you tell us about that?
BAKER: I cannot.
No, I cannot. I've been focused on the other cases that I mentioned today, but
I have told you that we are in the process of appealing this ruling to the United
States Supreme Court for the reasons that I've outlined here in some detail.
Now I'll take one more
question, then I've got to go.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary,
in a way all these rulings seem to be saying the same thing, that you count
votes, even if there are procedural problems. Why is the Supreme Court ruling
so different from the others, by your lights?
BAKER: I'm not sure
I follow what you're saying.
QUESTION: That you
have votes, you count them.
BAKER: I think everyone
would agree that when you have votes you count them. And here we've counted
them at least three times. It is not accurate to say these votes have never
We hear that all the time
from the other side. They have been counted. They were counted on election night,
they were counted in the automatic recount. They didn't register many times,
I'm sure, because nobody punched their stylus through the ballot card. But it's,
I don't think, accurate to say that means they haven't been counted. They have
been counted, at least twice, and maybe three times.