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The Florida Vote: U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Arguments from Bush and Gore Campaigns

Aired November 30, 2000 - 8:30 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: The ballots head for Tallahassee, but will there be time to count them?


BARRY RICHARD, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: We're going to move this case as rapidly as we can. If we can win it on Saturday, as I've said several times, we'll win it on Saturday.



DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: The inevitable effect of what they have done is to make it more time-consuming and confusing, and I think anyone knows that.


ANNOUNCER: And just hours from now, the U.S. Supreme Court gets involved.

Tonight, from the standing-room-only crowds to the legal procedures, a step-by-step look at what happens tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justice O'Connor usually asks the first question. She gets right to the heart of things.


ANNOUNCER: Plus, "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf on why this time, the truth really is stranger than fiction.

This is a CNN election 2000 special report: "The Florida Vote."

Live from the United States Supreme Court in Washington, CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We welcome viewers around the world. And it's a cold night but beautiful night here in Washington, but things are sure to heat up tomorrow in the building right behind me. But before we focus on the U.S. Supreme Court's role in the presidential election, we head for the sunshine state.

Today's legal challenges start with a big yellow truck. It made its way from West Palm Beach to Tallahassee today. Inside, metal boxes holding all 462,000 of Palm Beach County's ballots. Tomorrow, a six-truck caravan heads north from Miami-Dade County, carrying some 654,000 more ballots. All of them are destined for a Florida circuit court, where Saturday, a judge will hear arguments on how many of them -- if any at all -- should be counted.

This now cries out for a little analysis. Here's why it matters: If there is a recount -- and I underline if -- two matters are paramount. First, the judge must make sure it can happen quickly. Time is of the essence. December 12th may be a drop-dead date, so he needs the ballots at his fingertips. Second, the ballots must be protected from any contamination, accidental or otherwise. Paper ballots with hanging chads can be delicate. The judge wants custody of those ballots to guarantee that they will not be compromised.

It will be Saturday before Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls begins considering whether to order a count. That isn't soon enough for the Gore campaign.

So our next legal challenge is at Florida's state Supreme Court, where Al Gore's lawyers asked the justices to force an immediate count of about 14,000 disputed ballots from Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade as soon as they arrive in Tallahassee. There's been no response from the Florida Supreme Court.

So as the clock ticks, let me explain why this matters. A hearing before Judge N. Sanders Sauls about whether a count should occur is scheduled for this Saturday, December 2nd. Hypothetically, if the court takes two days to decide whether a count should occur, the decision will be made on December 4th. Then the judge must decide who counts the ballots, and how they could be counted. That may take another day, to December 5th. Then the arduous and laborious process of counting thousands of ballots, or more, will begin.

Even if the counting team works around the clock, it will take many days. If it takes a week, we have now hit the magic date of December 12. The loser will want to appeal. But it will be too late.

Our final legal challenge begins in Tallahassee, where today a joint committee of Florida's legislature recommended calling a special session to appoint the electoral college members who will support George W. Bush. In Washington, Al Gore's attorneys went to the United States Supreme Court asking if that's constitutional.

In a little over 13 hours, the eyes of the nation will be on the United States Supreme Court as the Bush and Gore campaigns battle over Florida's recount.

CNN's David Mattingly takes us step-by-step through a day that will make history but won't be on camera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BEN GINSBERG, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Among the bedrock principles of American election law is that you can't come up with new and different rules after election day for the purpose of counting ballots.

LAURENCE TRIBE, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: We are asking the high court to step aside. We do not think there has been any violation of federal law or the federal Constitution to remedy.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two sides, two polarized viewpoints, and in the center of this presidential impasse, the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court.

EDWARD LAZARUS, FORMER SUPREME COURT CLERK: There's going to be an enormous crowd outside the Supreme Court, starting the night before, taking numbers so they can get those very few seats that are available in the courtroom to see this historic argument.

MATTINGLY: And it will be tight. Additional seating will more than triple the usual array of press, 119 in all: 75 seats reserved for attorneys admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. Additional seats brought in available to accommodate up to 250 members of Congress, guests of legal teams, and finally the general public.

The lucky few who do get in will watch counsel teams stationed down front argue the seated justices: Ginsburg, Souter, Scalia, Stevens, Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, Thomas, and Breyer.


PROTESTERS: Fair vote!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When do we want it?


MATTINGLY: When proceedings begin at 10:00 a.m., at issue: Did the Florida Supreme Court violate federal and constitutional law when it ruled on behalf of the Gore campaign to include manual recounts in the state's final and certified presidential election totals?

One sign of the extraordinary nature of this case: each side will be given 45 minutes to argue, 15 minutes more than usual.

TONY MAURO, "AMERICAN LAWYER" CORRESPONDENT: Chief Justice Rehnquist is -- is sometimes very stern with the lawyers, may correct their grammar. Justice Stevens always has the question that the lawyers never anticipated. Justice Scalia likes to toy with the lawyers. He will ask these crazy hypotheticals sometimes and will just make -- give lawyers a very hard time.

MATTINGLY (on camera): The proceedings will not be seen on television, as they have been in Florida courts. The Supreme Court's never allowed them. But in another sign of extraordinary circumstances, the high court for the first time will release audio recordings after the oral arguments.

We will hear every statement from the attorneys and every question from the justices.

LAZARUS: And the justices will retire into their secret conference. No one will be present at that conference except for the justices themselves.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Then behind closed doors, Chief Justice William Rehnquist will speak first, followed by each justice in order of seniority...




MATTINGLY: ... with Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed in 1994, speaking last.

LAZARUS: And they will take a tentative vote, and the senior member of the majority group will decide who writes the majority opinion. And then they're off to the races.

MATTINGLY: In private, the justice writing the opinion can confer with other justices before circulating a draft to the entire court. If there is a dissenting opinion, more time may be needed. How long, how many days is anyone's guess.

MARK TUSHNET, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: They'll troop back into the courtroom, and then the justice, perhaps the author of the opinion, will read usually a short summary of the court's holding and analysis.

MATTINGLY: A short summary with potentially historic implications for future elections. But what impact will the high court have on this presidential impasse, and can the court help the nation avoid a constitutional crisis?

David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


VAN SUSTEREN: Good questions raised by David Mattingly, and next the insights from a veteran court watcher as our special report from the United States Supreme Court continues.


VAN SUSTEREN: We've got more than 2,000 e-mails -- yes, 2,000 -- and as we've seen, some very definite opinions on the United States Supreme Court. Now, for what we can expect tomorrow, joining us from our Washington bureau is Jan Crawford Greenburg who covers the Supreme Court for "The Chicago Tribune" as well as "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" on PBS. Jan, thank you for joining us. Jan, let's first talk about that e-mail -- cameras in the courtroom. Are you surprised that we're going to get an audio feed and that we didn't get cameras.

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": To some degree, because, you know, as we know, even this request -- and certainly it's not as much as people had hoped for -- but this is unprecedented. Normally the court doesn't allow its release of audiotape until much later in the process. And, of course, the networks, including CNN, had hoped to have cameras in the courtroom.

The justices have been very adamant in the past about saying no. Justice Suitor, for example, has the now famous comment that cameras will go in over his dead body as it's going out. But I think one thing to point out is that the proceedings below in the Florida Supreme Court in which we had the benefit of cameras were quite dignified. It showed a very responsive court, an engaged court. Attorneys who were very responsive to the issues.

It wasn't a circus like some of the other trials that we've seen televised so people had speculated that that actually may have helped persuade the court to allow what for this court is a big step, though of course not huge step that many people had wanted with the cameras.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Arlen Specter introduced legislation even wrote the court in the past few days asking for cameras in the courtroom. Do you think for the next selection of a justice -- we always talk about litmus test in terms of abortion -- do you think cameras will be a litmus test?

GREENBURG: I doubt it, but someone might bring it up. But again, I just can't ever see this court with these justices who very much value their privacy of ever agreeing to cameras. A new justice, maybe, but not these nine.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, you've covered the Supreme Court since 1994.

GREENBURG: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: As a court reporter, do you ever get to meet the justices?

GREENBURG: Oh, sure we do. You don't have a lot of dealings with them, of course, and it's unfortunate that you can't call them up and say why are you taking this case? Or what were you thinking here because they don't discuss matters like that.

But certainly, you run into justices at different gatherings, but in general unlike other beats like the White House, covering Congress, we don't have interaction with these justices. And we can't divine their intent when they announce they're going to do things. For example, when they announced that they were going to get involved in this case as had you accurately predicted, unlike most people, many people...

VAN SUSTEREN: I predicted both ways, though. I was accurate because I predicted both ways.

GREENBURG: Well, cover your bases, but you know, a lot of people had speculated since they said they said they were going to get involved, they speculated about why. Obviously, we can't assume that the court is taking this case to reverse the Florida Supreme Court.

But short of that, we don't know. Some people have said maybe they're stepping in because this is such an issue of national importance that they want to bring legitimacy to this process. If not, that it may now seem if not finality people had hoped for -- but you know, we just don't know and even though, you know, we see the justices on occasion or at social gatherings, those are not questions that they answer.

VAN SUSTEREN: In the short time we have left, what are you looking for tomorrow?

GREENBURG: Well, I think tomorrow we're going to be looking at -- trying to read the tea leaves and see if we can get a sense from the questions that justices are asking which way they might be inclined to rule. Now, of course, I've got to say that we always say that we're not going to predict how a justice will decide or rule based on the questions and these justices sometimes like to play devil's advocate.

So, it's always hard to predict but I think that we will get a sense tomorrow on the issues of course that justices are interested in. They're going to be concerned about how this case might be applied not only in other cases, for example, how it might affect other state courts as they interpret state laws, but in general and in this case what impact their rulings might be.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, you're you one of lucky ones who has earned a seat in courtroom. But we need to take a break. Many thanks to Jan Crawford Greenburg "The Chicago Tribune." And next, an award winning storyteller looks at this election's unbelievable storyline when our special report from the U.S. Supreme Court continues.


VAN SUSTEREN: The election mess may be more interesting than the soaps, but if it hadn't really happened, would anyone in TV have dared write such a storyline? Dick Wolf would know. He's the Emmy award- winning producer of the hit show "Law and Order," and he joins us from our New York bureau.

Dick, thank you for joining us.

DICK WOLF, PRODUCER, "LAW & ORDER": It's my pleasure, Greta. As I said, I don't know quite why I'm here, but I'm happy to be here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, does this election mess, so to speak, does it have the markings of made-for-TV movie or series?

WOLF: Yes, but nobody would write it. I mean, it's statistically an impossible situation that nobody would come up with and it just proves once begin that truth is stranger than fiction. you could not -- what is the margin? One 1/2 of 1/1000 of 1 percent or something? It's ridiculous.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there anything - do you think that this is in the works, by the way?

WOLF: Excuse me.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think anyone's in the works writing this right now for TV?

WOLF: I don't think -- I don't know. Somebody -- we were talking about upcoming "Law and Order" story lines and you know, we had a really sort of spirited discussion about whether we should even do it because there's an election fraud story that has nothing, obviously, to do with the presidential election that we've been thinking about doing, and I don't know whether -- the jury's still out whether there is -- whether people really are really going to be burned out with all stories about politics or elections three -- you know, six, eight weeks from now. I don't know. I don't think anybody is going to do this for four, five years if ever. I mean, I think that there will eventually be a mini-series when, hopefully I'm retired. But I don't think that can you do it justice within a reasonable window.

VAN SUSTEREN: Obviously, I mean, this is a very serious problem that we face in the United States, but someone, I assume, someplace is going to try to put this on TV. You've been in the business a long time. Tell me who you'd cast if this were your project?

WOLF: Well, I mean there are the guys on "Saturday Night Live." The guy who does Gore really looks like Al Gore, I think. I'm think they could probably come up with a better George Bush, but they've got it down pretty cold. Major actors? I don't know. There's -- you know, it's that difficult age group because all of big stars like Harrison Ford are a couple years older than these guys and the younger guys couldn't do it. I can't see Brad Pitt as George Bush. You know, it's a casting problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the appetite by the American people? I mean, obviously, we're pretty saturated with it now, but is it the type of storyline that's likely to have one of those insatiable appetite by the people?

WOLF: I think it's unfortunately it's probably the wrong analogy but it's like the O.J. trial. There's a fatal fascination with this. I don't think CNN has been off in my house since the election because you want to know what's going on and you can't believe it's such a roller coaster in terms of the past couple of weeks. Gore is up, Bush is up. Gore gets decision, Bush gets decision. I mean, if you were scripting it, nobody would accept these as act-outs because they're too ping-pongy and they're too perfectly structured. It's -- the window has gotten down a lot of days to three or four hours where you've gone from one guy absolutely on the ropes and then it reversing itself. I would not want to be either of them. I can't imagine how you deal with this kind of emotional push me, pull you.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about heroes? Do you think from a drama -- are there any heroes in this?

WOLF: I don't think anybody is coming out with clean hands. I mean, it's -- I think that's -- I think that may be the biggest negative that will come out of this is the, you know, the endless discussions of who's manipulating the system. The buzz word aspect of it, that, you know, we just want every vote to be counted and when it's sort of minimized down to sound bytes, again, I think people are going -- they want it over clearly. I think appetite is insatiable but people are getting kind of stuffed now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank You to Dick Wolf in our New York bureau.

It seems that so many successful movies are driven by common themes: boy gets girl, action-adventure, buddy films. Well, Hollywood isn't alone in the theme business. News people have a favorite theme, too: the pursuit. The media's hot pursuit.

Tonight, our case study in taking the show on the road. Who can forget that white bronco barreling up the 405 freeway in June of 1994? Do you know where you were when the TV helicopters were circling O.J. Simpson's car?

In September of 1998, another pursuit: This time in Washington, D.C. From the office of the independent counsel to the U.S. Capitol. The police-protected cargo? The unforgettable Starr referral report just before impeachment.

Just this past summer, tracking the caravan through suburban Virginia as Elian Gonzalez and his father Juan Miguel were whisked out of their heavily-guarded retreat on their way back to Cuba.

And today: Florida's sacred treasure? Ballots, dimples and chads in a rented Ryder truck, under police escort roaring up the highway to Tallahassee. But the most important chase scene is yet to come.

Who will be the subject of the media's hot pursuit on January 28th -- 20th, rather, when that motorcade rolls up Pennsylvania Avenue?

And who will step out to take the presidential oath of office?

I want to hear your thoughts and questions about tomorrow's Supreme Court showdown. Drop me an e-mail. The address is one word: askgreta@cnn,com. That's one word askgreta. That's all for tonight. I'm Greta Van Susteren from outside the beautiful Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

And up next, my "BURDEN OF PROOF" partner Roger Cossack guest hosts "LARRY KING LIVE" with Gore legal adviser Ron Klain, Republican Senator John Ashcroft, and many other guests on the eve of the Supreme Court face-off. Be sure to keep watching CNN all day tomorrow for extensive coverage of this very historic confrontation. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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