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JIM LEHRER: The position of George W. Bush won out in two major court rulings today. In Florida, State Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls rejected Vice President Gore’s challenge to the statewide results, and to have 14,000 disputed ballots hand-recounted. Gore’s lawyers immediately appealed the decision to the Florida Supreme Court. And in Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Florida Supreme Court’s earlier decision that allowed hand recounts after the original deadline. The Justices said the grounds for that decision must be clarified. We begin with the state court decision. Here is part of the statement by Judge Sauls, delivered from the bench late this afternoon in Tallahassee.
JUDGE N. SANDERS SAULS: It is the established law of Florida, as reflected in State V. Smith that where changes or charges of irregularity of procedure or inaccuracy of returns in balloting and counting processes have been alleged that the court must find as a fact that a legal basis for ordering any recount exists before ordering such recount. Further, it is well established, as reflected in the opinion of Judge Jonas and Smith V. Tines, that in order to contest election results under Section 102.168 of the Florida statutes, the plaintiff must show that but for the irregularity or inaccuracy claimed, the result of the election would have been different and he or she would have been the winner.
In this case, there is no credible statistical evidence and no other competent, substantial evidence to establish by a preponderance a reasonable probability that the results of the statewide election in the state of Florida would be different from the result which has been certified by the state elections canvassing commission. The court further finds and concludes the evidence does not establish any illegality, dishonesty, gross negligence, improper influence, coercion or fraud in the balloting and counting processes. Secondly, there is no authority under Florida law for certification of an incomplete manual recount of a portion of or less than all ballots from any county by the state elections canvassing commission nor authority to include any returns submitted past the deadline established by the Florida Supreme Court in this election. Thirdly, although the record shows voter error and/or less than total accuracy in regard to the punch-card voting devices utilized in Dade and Palm Beach Counties, which these counties have been aware of for many years, these balloting and counting problems cannot support or affect any recounting necessity with respect to Dade County absent the establishment of a reasonable probability that the statewide election result would be different, which has not been established in this case.
Further, this court would further conclude and find that to properly state a cause of action under section 102.168 of the Florida statute to contest a statewide federal election, a plaintiff would necessarily have to place in issue and seek as a remedy with the attendant burden of proof a review and recount of all ballots in all of the counties in this state with respect to the particular alleged irregularity or inaccuracy in the balloting or counting processes alleged to have occurred. In conclusion, the court finds that the plaintiffs have failed to carry the requisite burden of proof, and judgment shall be and hereby is entered that plaintiffs shall take nothing by this action and the defendants may go hence without Dade. All ballots in custody of the clerk of this court shall remain pending review. Judgment will be entered and filed with the clerk immediately following this hearing. Court will stand in recess.
JIM LEHRER: Now Betty Ann Bowser reports on today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It took the U.S. Supreme Court just three days to issue its opinion. In a seven-page statement released today, the Justices found what they called considerable uncertainty as to the precise grounds for the decision of the Florida Supreme Court. Florida’s highest court had extended the deadline for certifying the state’s final presidential vote by 12 days so that some hand-counted ballots could be included. The extension narrowed Governor Bush’s lead over Vice President Gore from 930 to 537 votes. But the U.S. Supreme Court Justices were unclear how much consideration the Florida High Court gave to a century-old federal law, which for bids the mechanism for choosing electors to be altered after Election Day. In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said there was sufficient reason not to review federal questions raised by the case, and, in conclusion, stated the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida is therefore vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. Speaking from the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, George W. Bush said he was gratified by the Supreme Court’s decision.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: We’re pleased with the decision. I think America ought to be comforted to know that the highest court of our land is going to make sure that the outcome of this election is a fair outcome. And I’m grateful that the court made the decision that it made. Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago that a lot of people boldly predicted that the court wouldn’t even hear our case, and now they’re involved in making sure the outcome of the election is fair.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bush’s election observer James Baker called today’s decision a win.
JAMES BAKER: 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 III, 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.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But lawyers for Vice President Gore said the court decision was no decision at all.
DAVID BOIES: The Florida Supreme Court’s decision has not been reversed. The Florida Supreme Court’s decision has been sent back to the Florida Supreme Court for the Florida Supreme Court to give its interpretation of what it was doing.
RON KLAIN: This court could have done one of three things: It could have ruled for us, it could have ruled against it, or it could have done what it did today which is to say, “There isn’t enough here for us to decide. Go back to the Florida Supreme Court, get a clear ruling from the Florida Supreme Court and then we’ll look at it then.” From our perspective that’s neither good news nor bad news. It’s just no news.