Bush, Gore file Supreme Court briefs

GOP claims Florida high court violated Constitution by extending election certification deadline; Demo attorneys dismiss argument as "insubstantial"


Salon Staff
November 28, 2000 6:24PM (UTC)

Lawyers for George W. Bush and Al Gore filed legal briefs Tuesday afternoon with the United States Supreme Court in preparation for Friday arguments in the appeal filed by the Texas governor.

In its 51-page filing, the Bush campaign called on the Supreme Court to overturn a Florida Supreme Court decision permitting hand recounts in the state's counties in order to "imbue this election with the finality that the carefully wrought federal system was meant to secure."

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Bush attorneys wrote that the state Supreme Court, which is comprised entirely of Democrats, violated the federal Constitution and could have changed the outcome of the election when it ordered Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris to extend her deadline for certifying the election. The legal team called on the court to end all hand recounts.

In its own filing, the Gore campaign dismissed the Republican arguments as "insubstantial." Ironically, the Democrats borrowed a page from the Republicans in their legal brief, arguing that the Florida vote is a states' rights issue and doesn't belong in federal court.

"Principles of federalism counsel strongly against interference by this court," Gore attorneys wrote in their brief.

Earlier Tuesday, after more than a week of leaving much of the public opinion fight to his surrogates, Vice President Al Gore spoke to the American public and the press at 2 p.m. EST, asking the rhetorical question, "Why not count all the votes?"

Echoing a motion filed by his attorneys in their legal challenge to Florida election results, the Democratic presidential candidate called for manual recounts to be completed and certified in the disputed counties. "The state of Florida has certified a vote count that is neither complete nor accurate," Gore said. He praised the patience of the American people and laid blame for the length of the Florida challenge squarely at the feet of the Republicans.

It was the second time in less than 24 hours that Gore had made a public pitch. In a Monday evening address, Gore appealed to the public's sense of fairness and concern for possibly disenfranchised voters to build support for various Democratic legal actions. "A vote is not just a piece of paper; a vote is a human voice ... and we must not let those voices be silenced," Gore said. "Whatever the outcome, let the people have their say and let us listen."

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Gore attacked the line Republicans have repeated over the past three weeks -- that Florida ballots have already been counted repeatedly. "It's not 'recount after recount,' as some have charged, but a single full and accurate count," Gore said of attempts to review undervotes. The vice president also alluded to GOP protests in Miami-Dade County, characterizing such moves as "organized intimidation."

The propaganda war was going full throttle on Tuesday.

Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes held a press conference in which she ridiculed Gore for his abysmal television performance. "Having failed to make his case with the American people last night, he apparently felt the need to restate his arguments," Hughes said. For days now, the Bush campaign has accused the Gore camp of trying to "change the rules" of the election, but today Hughes toted out a new line for the post-certification era: "The vice president has now instructed his lawyers to go back to court to try to overturn the certified results of the Florida election."

James Baker, Gov. George W. Bush's wise man in residence on the Florida legal battle, staged a press conference at about 9:30 a.m. EST to present the Republicans' new legal dream team. The expanded group of attorneys includes Barry Richard, Fred Bartlit, Philip Beck, Daryl Bristow and G. Irvin Terrell.

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Baker and the lawyers also set out to dispel "myths" advanced by Gore and his legal team, aggressively attacking the case the vice president has brought to contest Florida's Sunday vote certification. They repeatedly referred to the 10,000 undervotes in Miami-Dade County, ballots on which no presidential choice was detected by vote-counting machines, as "nonvotes" that do not merit further consideration. "It's incorrect to say that these votes haven't been counted," Baker said. "They've been counted just like all of the other nonvotes, not only in counties in Florida but also in other counties across the United States."

Bush's legal team also disputed the Democratic argument that a Republican mob pressured the Miami-Dade canvassing board into ending its manual recount. "That's the myth," Bartlit said, insisting that the board acted because it couldn't meet the time constraints of the recount. "There were no shouts, no pressure in the room," the lawyer said. (The group was a little less forthcoming when questions turned to reports that the Miami-Dade protesters were paid Republican operatives.)

More spokesmen will carry Gore's flag in Florida on Tuesday. His staff has organized an event featuring "disenfranchised Floridians" who will speak out against efforts to end the legal challenges to the Florida vote. And the Rev. Jesse Jackson held a press conference charging that racist elements in the state government tried to suppress minority participation on Election Day.

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Meanwhile in Washington, the General Services Administration is standing by its decision not to recognize George W. Bush as president-elect as long as the results of the election are still held up in court battles. In response, self-declared Vice President-elect Dick Cheney said the Texas governor would move ahead in organizing an administration using private funds.

In what amounted to an on-air fundraising plea, Cheney said it would be "irresponsible" for Bush not to move forward with a transition. In a press conference held at 4 p.m. EST Monday, Bush's No. 2 said he found the GSA's decision "regrettable." He added, "We believe it is time to get on with the business of organizing the new administration." Cheney also chided Gore and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman for not conceding defeat, cautioning that a "penalty may have to be paid at some future date if the next administration is not allowed to prepare to take the reins of government."

Cheney said the Bush team will accept individual contributions of up to $5,000. Unlike during the general election, when the campaign made a mad grab for soft money, Cheney said the Bush team would not accept any cash from corporations or political action committees. The transition effort will be led by Clay Johnson, Bush's chief of staff in Austin.

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Inside the courts, Democratic lawyers have submitted a proposed schedule to the Leon County Circuit Court of Appeals that would expedite their challenge to the election. Predictably, Bush attorneys have objected to almost every item in that filing.

The Gore team is seeking court intervention in three Florida counties. Nassau County recertified its original Election Night totals, throwing out its machine recount, which had given Gore an additional 52 votes. Miami-Dade County abruptly ended its manual recount Wednesday, asserting that it could not complete the process in time. The incomplete recount in that county gave Gore a net gain of 157 votes, but Miami-Dade election officials refused to submit those for certification.

Palm Beach County's manual recount was rejected because it was not completed by the 5 p.m. Sunday deadline imposed by the Florida Supreme Court. Early Monday evening, election officials there announced that Gore had picked up approximately 220 votes. Though the hand recount there has ended, Palm Beach County is still the center of several disputes. Some Tuesday reports imply that county officials had not properly audited their numbers. Members from the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch are also still fussing over the Palm Beach County ballots. That group began its court-sanctioned review of disputed votes on Tuesday, though none of the manual recount was ever certified.

In other Palm Beach County news, a state circuit court has sent a suit brought by some Palm Beach County voters straight to the Florida Supreme Court. That action demands a new countywide election because of the confusion caused by the butterfly ballot. On Monday, Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters announced that the court has not yet agreed to hear the case, but would like both sides to submit their arguments by 5 p.m. EST Tuesday.

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A Seminole County voter suit has also been passed on to a higher court. The Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee will hear a local challenge to 15,000 absentee ballots on Wednesday. In that case, Democrats charge that county election officials allowed Republican volunteers to alter 4,700 ballot requests by adding a code number required for the ballots to be valid; county Democrats were not given the same chance. As a consequence, the suit demands that all the absentee ballots be tossed out, which would result in 10,006 fewer votes for Bush and 5,209 fewer votes for Gore.

The Bush campaign has pending court challenges of its own. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday in a suit brought by the Bush campaign about the legality of the manual recount. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is still considering an earlier Bush challenge to the manual recount. That court announced Monday that it would grant Bush's request to delay its action on that case until Dec. 5, giving the U.S. Supreme Court time to have its say. Lawyers representing the Texas governor have also filed suits in Orange, Polk, Pasco, Hillsborough and Okaloosa counties over rejected overseas military ballots.

Defense Secretary William Cohen has ordered a review of overseas military ballot procedures, hoping to reduce ballot rejections among those voters in the future.

Meanwhile in Washington, the General Services Administration is standing by its decision not to recognize George W. Bush as president-elect as long as the results of the election are still held up in court battles. In response, self-declared Vice President-elect Dick Cheney said the Texas governor would move ahead in organizing an administration using private funds.

Advertisement:

In what amounted to an on-air fundraising plea, Cheney said it would be "irresponsible" for Bush not to move forward with a transition. In a press conference held at 4 p.m. EST Monday, Bush's No. 2 said he found the GSA's decision "regrettable." He added, "We believe it is time to get on with the business of organizing the new administration." Cheney also chided Gore and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman for not conceding defeat, cautioning that a "penalty may have to be paid at some future date if the next administration is not allowed to prepare to take the reins of government."

Cheney said the Bush team will accept individual contributions of up to $5,000. Unlike during the general election, when the campaign made a mad grab for soft money, Cheney said the Bush team would not accept any cash from corporations or political action committees. The transition effort will be led by Clay Johnson, Bush's chief of staff in Austin.

Inside the courts, Democratic lawyers have submitted a proposed schedule to the Leon County Circuit Court of Appeals that would expedite their challenge to the election. Predictably, Bush attorneys have objected to almost every item in that filing.

The Gore team is seeking court intervention in three Florida counties. Nassau County recertified its original Election Night totals, throwing out its machine recount, which had given Gore an additional 52 votes. Miami-Dade County abruptly ended its manual recount Wednesday, asserting that it could not complete the process in time. The incomplete recount in that county gave Gore a net gain of 157 votes, but Miami-Dade election officials refused to submit those for certification.

Advertisement:

Palm Beach County's manual recount was rejected because it was not completed by the 5 p.m. Sunday deadline imposed by the Florida Supreme Court. Early Monday evening, election officials there announced that Gore had picked up approximately 220 votes. Though the hand recount there has ended, Palm Beach County is still the center of several disputes. Some Tuesday reports imply that county officials had not properly audited their numbers. Members from the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch are also still fussing over the Palm Beach County ballots. That group began its court-sanctioned review of disputed votes on Tuesday, though none of the manual recount was ever certified.

In other Palm Beach County news, a state circuit court has sent a suit brought by some Palm Beach County voters straight to the Florida Supreme Court. That action demands a new countywide election because of the confusion caused by the butterfly ballot. On Monday, Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters announced that the court has not yet agreed to hear the case, but would like both sides to submit their arguments by 5 p.m. EST Tuesday.

A Seminole County voter suit has also been passed on to a higher court. The Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee will hear a local challenge to 15,000 absentee ballots on Wednesday. In that case, Democrats charge that county election officials allowed Republican volunteers to alter 4,700 ballot requests by adding a code number required for the ballots to be valid; county Democrats were not given the same chance. As a consequence, the suit demands that all the absentee ballots be tossed out, which would result in 10,006 fewer votes for Bush and 5,209 fewer votes for Gore.

The Bush campaign has pending court challenges of its own. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday in a suit brought by the Bush campaign about the legality of the manual recount. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is still considering an earlier Bush challenge to the manual recount. That court announced Monday that it would grant Bush's request to delay its action on that case until Dec. 5, giving the U.S. Supreme Court time to have its say. Lawyers representing the Texas governor have also filed suits in Orange, Polk, Pasco, Hillsborough and Okaloosa counties over rejected overseas military ballots.

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Defense Secretary William Cohen has ordered a review of overseas military ballot procedures, hoping to reduce ballot rejections among those voters in the future.


Salon Staff

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