|FLORIDA COURT BATTLES|
December 8, 2000
Kwame Holman reports on today's historic court rulings.
JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore won a big legal victory today that could revive his chances of becoming President. By a 4-to-3 vote, the Florida Supreme Court ordered an immediate hand recount of thousands of disputed ballots from Miami-Dade County. It also ordered similar counts of such ballots statewide. And it added 383 votes to Gore's present total from previous recounts. That would reduce Governor Bush's overall margin at present to just 154 votes. Bush was expected to appeal today's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. There were two other lower court rulings earlier in the day, both refused a Democratic petition to throw out absentee ballots in two counties. Those decisions were immediately appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. Kwame Holman reports on all this and more.
KWAME HOLMAN: The most eagerly anticipated decision of the day came late this afternoon from the Florida Supreme Court.
CRAIG WATERS: By a vote of four to three, the majority of the court has reversed the decision of the trial court in part. It is further ordered that the circuit court of the second judicial circuit here in Tallahassee shall immediately begin a manual recount of the approximately 9,000 Miami-Dade ballots that registered under votes. In addition, the circuit court shall enter orders ensuring the inclusion of the additional 215 legal votes for Vice President Gore in Palm Beach County and the 168 additional legal votes from Miami-Dade County. In addition, the circuit court shall order a manual recount of all under votes in any Florida county where such a recount has not yet occurred. Because time is of the essence, the recount shall commence immediately. In tabulating what constitutes a legal vote, the standard to be used is the one provided by the legislature. A vote shall be counted where there is a clear indication of the intent of the voter.
KWAME HOLMAN: Vice President Gore's campaign manager, William Daley, spoke shortly after the ruling.
WILLIAM DALEY: Today's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court is an important victory for what has been Al Gore and Joe Lieberman's basic principle since election day, and that is a full and a fair count of all the votes. This decision is not just a victory for Al Gore, and his millions of supporters. It is a victory for fairness and accountability and our democracy itself. Let the count begin not just of the votes yet to be counted in Miami Dade, but as the court wisely ruled, in every Florida county where under votes have yet to be counted. Then Florida and America will know with certainty who has really won the presidency. We urge everyone to let the counting supervised by the independent judiciary, proceed without interruption to a speedy conclusion. All of these matters should be resolved by the Florida's judiciary -- not by the politicians. Al Gore and Joe Lieberman pledge to respect the results of this court-supervised vote counting. We urge everyone to respect the will of Florida's voters and honor the results of the count. I want to thank our legal team for their great job, our supporters for their hard work, and especially the American people for their patience as our nation makes sure that every vote is counted. Thank you very much.
REPORTER: Are you confident this will withstand a Supreme Court appeal?
WILLIAM DALEY: We feel very good about this decision.
KWAME HOLMAN: A statement from the Bush campaign was expected later. In Austin, before the Supreme Court ruling, Governor Bush said if he lost, he would appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
REPORTER: Governor, do you expect to be... to find out today? If there is a decisive ruling, do you think the person who loses should concede by the end of the day?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, Tom, we're prepared to, if need be, take our case back to the Supreme Court. But I hope that doesn't have to happen.
KWAME HOLMAN: Earlier this afternoon, Governor Bush succeeded in two lower court rulings concerning absentee ballots. Democratic voters had asked that 25,000 votes be thrown out because of mistakes made on request forms for the ballots.
TERRE CASS: Based upon the evidence in accord with the controlling legal precedent of the Florida Supreme Court, the trial courts in the Seminole County case and the Martin County case have determined that despite irregularities in the request for absentee ballots, neither the sanctity of the ballots nor the integrity of the election has been compromised, and that the election results... ( Applause ) ...and that the election results reflect a full, and fair expression of the will of the voters. Accordingly, all relief requested by the plaintiffs has been denied and judgment entered for the defendants. Thank you.
SPOKESMAN: Thank you very much.
KWAME HOLMAN: At midday, anticipating the possibility of a Gore victory, a special session of the Republican-controlled Florida legislature convened with the House and Senate meeting separately. The Florida Senate is composed of 25 Republicans and 15 Democrats, in the House Republicans outnumber Democrats 77 to 43. GOP lawmakers say they want to be sure Florida's 25 electors are pledged to George W. Bush, no matter which way the state Supreme Court ruled.
SEN. PRESIDENT JOHN McKAY: I do not think there is a member in this body who in his or her most honest moments who believes that the controversies swirling about in the courtrooms of this city can be put to rest decidedly and without further challenge within the next 96 hours -- particularly since new lawsuits have been filed in just the past few days. If such finality cannot be achieved, and believe me I hope it is, there is a significant risk that this state's electoral votes may not be counted. I cannot abandon my constitutional duty; we cannot abandon our constitutional duties and let the six million Floridians who voted for the candidate of his or her choice not be heard.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Democrats argued there was no reason to certify the electors ahead of the nationwide deadline of December 12. And they said doing so might violate a federal law that allows legislatures to take such action only when state voters have failed to make a choice.
SEN. TOM ROSSIN: Senators at the onset, and again at the conclusion of our joint committee meetings last week, I asked the question why are we here? The sad truth is I think we all we know why we're here today, and we all know we shouldn't be. As I have told President privately and have said publicly, the House leadership instigated this special session not to guarantee Florida's electoral votes are counted but, instead, to make sure George W. Bush's votes are certified even if in the end it turns out Vice President Gore was the people's choice in Florida as he was in the nation. I believe and have stated over and over again that this procedure is illegal, unconstitutional, and just plain wrong.
KWAME HOLMAN: The House plans to meet on the Tuesday deadline. The Senate would meet the next day.