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James Baker Calls U.S. Supreme Court Ruling a "Win" for Bush

Aired December 4, 2000 - 3:03 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Down to Tallahassee, here is James Baker.

JAMES BAKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN OBSERVER: 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 Court review.

BAKER: 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 8 or on November the 9, 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 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 our position.

BAKER: I'll take one more question. Yes?

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 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.

WATERS: James Baker, former secretary of state, the Bush campaign observer down there in Tallahassee, Florida. The first reaction by the Gore people to the United States Supreme Court decision to remand to the Florida Supreme Court its judgment about the extension of the deadlines for the Florida recount. James Baker saying for the Republicans, "This was a win," he said.

He made a couple of points about the United States Supreme Court vacating the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court, point No. 1. And as to the contest, he said, we have made our arguments before Judge Sauls about the efficacy of the deadlines for filing a contest and whether or not they have been properly met.

So we are now awaiting the Judge Sauls' decision in Leon County court on the contest, the trial over the weekend, contesting the ballot recount.

Eileen O'Connor joins us now from Washington with some reaction from the Gore campaign to all of this. Eileen, what are you hearing?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far they have not reacted to Secretary Bakers' remarks, but they did say right before this press conference -- again, reiterating -- that this they see as a draw. They do not see this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, they say, as a win for any side, and that they believe that right now it is brought back, as one source said, brought actually these court cases back to where they wanted to be, all of them going to the Florida state Supreme Court.

As you know, Lou, once Judge Sauls makes his decision both sides have already indicated, no matter what that decision is, the one that loses will certainly appeal that decision to the Florida state Supreme Court. And the Gore campaign believes that this is actually good for them. They're hoping to be able to consolidate those cases and move forward even more quickly toward that manual recount.

Now, obviously, they would have loved a clear victory in the Supreme Court. They've said that before, that for public relations' effects that that would have been very good for them to be seen as winning in the high court and extending, they hope, public patience for all of this legal maneuvering to get those hand recounts. But they say, insist that this wasn't a defeat for them. Not a blow, they say, just a draw -- Lou.

WATERS: All right. Eileen O'Connor with the Gore campaign in Washington. The Gore campaign people saying the U.S. Supreme Court decision was a draw. James Baker said it was a win. So there we are. More disagreement.



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