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Florida 2000
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Text: Bush Campaign Adviser James A. Baker III
Friday, December 8, 2000

Following is the transcript of Bush campaign senior adviser James A. Baker III announcing the campaign will appeal the Florida Supreme Court decision ordering manual recounts.

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.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) 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 for you.

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 just outlined.

Yes, sir?

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.

QUESTION: Secretary 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 been counted.

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.

Thank you.

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