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Burden of Proof

Legal Impact on Election 2000: Green Party Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader Battles for Ballot Access, Debate Inclusion

Aired August 9, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: an interview with Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Why are some states not allowing him on their ballots? and will we hear him debate?


RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is easy and true to say that this deep democracy campaign will be an uphill one. However, it is also true that widespread reform will not flourish without a fairer distribution of power for the key roles that we play in our society as voter, citizen, worker, taxpayer and consumer.



QUESTION: You get asked all the time if you are worried that you may cause Mr. Bush to be elected. How do you feel about that? and which candidate are you closer to in your views?

NADER: Well, both candidates flunk. One flunks more than the other, but they both flunk. So we need a new politics, and that's what I'm trying to contribute to.



NADER: This is a rich person's economy, graced by the Democrats and Republicans, who increasingly are morphing into one corporate party with two heads wearing different makeup.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

For the past four decades, he's made a name for himself as America's consumer advocate, fighting giant corporations on behalf of the average Joe. GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Now, Ralph Nader is fighting Republicans and Democrats, charging that the two parties are more alike than they seem, and that the political process has been poisoned by corporate cash.


NADER: The focus on fundamentals of broader distribution of power is the touchstone of this campaign. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis declared for the ages, and I quote: "We can have a democratic society, or we can have great concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both."


COSSACK: Joining us today are Jon Stanley, Kristin Romens (ph) and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

VAN SUSTEREN: And in our back row, Krista Patterson (ph), Andrew Dubill (ph) and Brian Shipley (ph).

Ralph, first, the top of the news, the Firestone tire issue. Is this a corporation being responsible? or too little too late?

NADER: Well, they are going to recall the tires, but it is very late, and there have been 46 deaths attributed to this defective tire, and dozens of injuries, and people who now have these tires, the ATX tire series, should take them back to their dealer right away, and not even wait for the letter to come from Bridgestone/Firestone.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is this an issue, Ralph, only for the lawyers of America, and the consumers of America, or is this an issue, if you were president of the United States, would have -- you would have some affect on it?

NADER: Well, we've already had some affect. I was one of the prime backers of the Tire Safety Act in the mid '60s, which led to the requirement of recalls. And if companies sell consumers defective products, they've got to recall them at company expense, and they have got to do it quickly. And a lot of times, the companies delay, and they have all kinds of meetings inside, and they try to cover up. And it's been too far for these ATX tires.

If you are running a Ford Explorer, for example, with these ATX tires, you go right back to the dealer now, and say you want them replaced.

COSSACK: All right, Ralph, let's talk about the death penalty. You have come out in opposition to the death penalty. But, as president of the United States, while you might have some impact on the federal judiciary and the Justice Department, what impact could you have on the states, in terms of the death penalty, and isn't this really a states' rights issue?

NADER: Well, it used to be, but now there are numerous federal crimes which provide for the death penalty, that's a recent development. And a president, I think, should take a strong stand. The death penalty has been shown, in study after study, not to deter homicides; it has been shown to be discriminatoraly applied to the poor and the defenseless, especially defendants who don't have lawyers who stay awake at trial.

COSSACK: Ralph, I am going to give you all that, but I am going to go back to that same issue, again. As president of the United States, isn't there very little, I mean, the majority, the vast majority of executions that are done in this country, in fact there is going to two of them done this Texas today, scheduled today, are done by states. What impact could a president of the United States have? I mean, could you withhold criminal justice funds? what could you do?

NADER: First of all, moral leadership here, the bully pulpit. And second, as I said, there are now increasing numbers of federal crimes that provide for the death penalty right under the jurisdiction of the president.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ralph, tonight in the state of Texas, it is expected that two people will be executed in one evening. If George W. Bush were here, what would be your message to George W. Bush about the double execution expected tonight?

NADER: Well, if I was George W. Bush I would be pretty ashamed. I would do what Governor Ryan, a fellow Republican did in Illinois, and declare a moratorium, or urge a moratorium in Texas, in order to determine how many defendants have been adequately represented by competent lawyers for one, and to review the whole process by which -- it just so happens that, guess who gets executed in Texas? overwhelmingly minorities.

And crimes are committed by all segments of society, and I would hope that George Bush will wake up to it because it because it is going to haunt him for the next few weeks, there is going to be all these executions coming. There is one now involving a retarded man.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's talk about the Supreme Court. So many decision are 5-4, if you were president of the United States, how would you determine who would be your nominee for the Supreme Court? what is the criteria?

NADER: Well, a certain level of intellectual power, a sense of justice, as demonstrated by the record of the potential nominee. How has the person used his or her time as an attorney, for example, in advancing justice in society? And third, a sense of judicial impartiality, that's very important here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do have any sort of an ideal candidate, I mean, are there any names, I mean, looking back either on who has been on the bench, who really impresses you, or someone that -- who is like out now, who would be like a strong candidate in your mind?

NADER: Sure, Alan Morrison, the director of litigation of Public Citizen, has argued many Supreme Court cases, greatly respected by Supreme Court judges -- justices rather. And a professor of law, Robert Feldman (ph), at the University of San Diego Law School, a graduate of Harvard Law School.

VAN SUSTEREN: What makes him so good?

NADER: Because he has one of the finest, most refined intellectual rigorous sense of justice I've ever seen. He happens to head a children's advocacy groups, but he has written books on prosecution, corporate crime, white-collar crime, he's been a district attorney in his prior practice.

I mean, there are plenty of talented people, but -- and I could go and give other names, but we are not being well served by the recent crop.

COSSACK: Ralph, you talk, as one of your standards, intellectual impartiality, but you know, if I have George Bush sitting here, he would say he wants impartiality, or if I had someone else -- Al Gore, he would want impartiality, but -- which is in the eye of beholder. You know, impartiality, but in terms of what the way you define it, and you are most identified with consumer causes and liberal causes. So you would be looking for people, and justices I suppose, who would be on that side, particularly on pro-choice those kinds of sides, correct?

NADER: Well, George Bush would have a litmus paper test. My litmus paper test is: Does the judge or justice allow a fair hearing for all sides to the litigation? all arguments? That's the key because impartiality means you keep an open mind. Impartiality means you are someone like Warren or Brennan or Blackman or Stevens or Souter, who keep an open mind. You go before justices like those gentleman and you know they are not going to make up their mind ahead of time. They are going to listen to the arguments.

VAN SUSTEREN: We are going to take a break. Up next, Ralph Nader has four pending lawsuits associated with the 2000 campaign. Find out why he's fighting in court, when we come back.


ABC News has acknowledged it paid a Washington lawyer $25,000 to clear the way for its March 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky.

The network hired Theodore Olson, described as a friend of Ken Starr, to negotiate an exception to a clause in Lewinsky's immunity deal which barred her from discussing the case.



COSSACK; Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log on to We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show, and even join our chat room. VAN SUSTEREN: Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader has filed four lawsuits in his bid for the Oval Office. Three of those complaints center on ballot access. A fourth lawsuit involves what Nader describes as corporate financing of the presidential debates. What are you doing about the fact, Ralph, that you are not at least now scheduled to be in a presidential debate?

NADER: Well, it is a private group, the Presidential Debate Commission, created and controlled by the Republican and Democratic Parties, whose purpose seems to be to exclude competition. Unfortunately, they are the only game in town.

We filed a suit in federal district court in Boston to attack one part of this problem, which is the Anheuser-Busch corporate contributions to the debate commission's debates, and we think that's illegal under a 1911 federal statute, because we think that corporate contributions to presidential debates, especially when they are controlled by two parties that exclude others, is an illegal corporate contribution to campaigning.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of the fact, when Pat Buchanan was on BURDEN OF PROOF about a week or two ago, and he said that he had less than about 5 percent of the people wanted to vote for him, but over 60 percent wanted to see him in the debate. His position was is that if he's allowed to debate, he is going to get more than 5 percent. Is that the strong basis to get into the debate?

NADER: Well, the strong basis is to give the American a broader choice between two look-a-like parties and candidates who decide there are six issues that differ, and remove all kinds of other issue, like corporate welfare, World Trade Organization, the military budget, et cetera.

But Pat is right, the latest Fox poll I think had 64 percent of the American people wanted a four-way debate: Gore, Bush, Buchanan and me. And you know, how much public opinion can these two parties stiff without coming around?

COSSACK: Let me ask you sort of a double-edged question. You said you filed suit in Boston against Anheuser-Busch because of corporate money to sponsor this...

NADER: It was against the FEC.


NADER: Federal Election Commission.

COSSACK: If you win, and you stop the corporate money from coming in, how does that help you, one, get into the debates; and, number two, let me ask you this, suppose the American Nazi Party said we want to be on the debates, we have a candidate that we want to put up, should they be allowed in the debates?

NADER: Well, the Appleseed Foundation criteria is a good one. It says that if, as a political party, you get over 5 percent of the vote under present federal law, and you get funds for the next four years, the way the Reform Party is, you should be qualified to get on the debate. So we believe in a 5 percent threshold.

COSSACK: Across-the-board, even if it was, say, a hate- mongering, hate-spewing organization.

NADER: Yes, of course. I don't think that kind of organization would ever get 5 percent or higher.

VAN SUSTEREN: At least we hope not.

COSSACK: Let me just go back answer that other question. Why does it help you?

NADER: It doesn't. It doesn't. What it does is, it goes after what we think is an illegality, and pushes the whole movement toward public financing of public campaigns. We want no private money in public campaigns.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me turn to the other topic of your lawsuits, access to ballots. What's the problem?

NADER: The problem was established by a Supreme Court case in 1982, called Anderson versus Seller Breeze (ph), which said, in effect, under the 14th Amendment, states cannot unduly burden the access to ballot by third party candidates.

The question is, what is an unduly burdensome barrier. Well, try North Carolina, 52,000 names are required under the signature, and they have to be filed by May 17.

Now 33 states have deadlines in August and September for signatures to be filed and the thrust of our case, there and in South Dakota and other places, is that the signature date is too compressed, there are not enough days to go around with clipboards getting signatures to get people on the ballot.

And I might say, we have the most burdensome ballot access statutes of any Western country.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of the lawsuits that are pending, I mean, there are several of them, are they all at different sort of stages of litigation? have you gotten any favorable treatment out of any of these courts?

NADER: Not yet. We are going to get -- The earliest decision will come from North Carolina. The court hearing was the last day of July.

COSSACK: Now isn't your arguments, I want to go back to the debate issue, isn't the argument on the other side, the argument they would make, look, this isn't hard money, this is soft money we are, therefore, allowed to give soft money to finance anything we want.

NADER: Except that it supports specifically the two candidates. I mean, if you ask Bush and Gore, is this really part of your campaigning? the debates? You bet your life it is part of their campaigning. So it is really a direct contribution to the campaigns of the two candidates.

COSSACK: Hasn't it been held, though, that -- I mean, isn't that why you are bringing this lawsuit because the Federal Election Commission said, well, look this is sort of soft money and we are going to allow this.

NADER: Well, they've been on both side. They actually reversed an earlier decision that was a better one.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ralph, Jon Stanley, one of our law students on the panel, has a question for you.

Go ahead, Jon.

JON STANLEY: Mr. Nader, you have advocated products liability cases, while these cases may bring huge verdicts, such as the one we saw recently tobacco case in Florida, how you can be so sure that it is the actual corporation that's being punished? won't they just pass the cost on to consumers? won't they just raise the price of cigarettes for example?

NADER: Well, that is always the case. Any company that is hit with a verdict they may try to pass it on, but in competitive economy they may not get away with it. More likely, they will feel the pinch in the pocketbook, they will go to their engineers, or they will go to the scientists, say: We've got to produce safer product, we've got to recall products more quickly, and that's the deterrent theory of product liability suits.

But, you know, there aren't that many product liability suits. If I had asked you how many, you would be stunned. There are about 30,000 filed every year in this giant economy of ours.

Actually, we filed more civil lawsuits per capita in our country in 1830 and 1840 than we file today. The only booming area of civil litigation are corporations suing corporations.

COSSACK: Ralph, under a Nader administration, would you try and outlaw cigarettes in this country?

NADER: No, you can't do that. It is something that Roscoe Pound, the old dean of the Harvard Law School, once called during prohibition in the 1920s, beyond the effective limits of legal action. You deal with an addiction by bringing it to the surface, by trying to help people drop the addiction, non-smoking clinics, for example, more information. Otherwise, you just drive it underground, and you get more crime. That's what happened in prohibition in the '20s.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. When we come back, more with Ralph Nader. We will ask him some more tough questions. Stay with us.


Q: Why have authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of a Kentucky man who won the $65.4 million Powerball jackpot last month?

A: Mack Metcalf did not show up in court yesterday to face charges of drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident.



COSSACK: We're back with Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Kristin (ph), you have a question for Ralph. Go ahead.


Republican candidate George W. Bush spoke at the Republican convention about changes he would like to see in the military, and I was wondering what your feeling is on what the role of the military should be in the post-Cold War world.

NADER: Well, President Bush declared the end of the Cold War 10 years ago and we still have a Cold War budget. We still have a budget that's going over $300 billion as if we still have enemies called the Soviet Union. When are we going to demobilized? What about the peace dividend? Lawrence Korb, who was the assistant secretary of defense for Ronald Reagan, thinks we can shave off $100 billion from that budget a year and have a leaner and more effective defense. There are a lot of needs in this country that could use that money.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ralph, United Airlines is in the news about the problems with cancellation of flights. Roger just got a flight on United this week. Tonight I'm going to take e-mails from viewers on the issue of cancellation of flights. If you were president, is there anything you can do to make the airline industry more responsive to the consumer?

NADER: Well, you have to do something about hub airports. There's too much crowding, there are too many flights, they keep increasing, the air-controller system is not adequate, it's not expansive, it's not up-to-date enough, and it's problems with management -- in management labor relations, problems in United Airlines.

VAN SUSTEREN: What would you do as the president, though, exactly. I mean, tell me the steps you would take today.

NADER: Well, I'd use the Aviation Trust Fund to provide updated equipment in terms of collision avoidance systems, et cetera. We put all this in our book, "Collision Course: The Truth About Airline Safety." And the second is, we've got to deal with the maintenance problem. There are sometimes corners being cut because of competition between the two, or various airlines. And, third, you've got to break the hub. The hub is bad for airline passengers because they have to pay through the nose.

You know, Memphis, Detroit, Minneapolis are controlled by Northwest Airlines. But that's what makes so much crowding. You've got to deal with the hub. The hub is an anti-competitive strategy by the airlines.

COSSACK: Ralph, your vice presidential candidate, Winona LaDuke, has called for a truth and reconciliation commission to probe crimes against Native Americans and other things. What is that? What is that all about?

NADER: It's common sense. There have been crimes against Native Americans.

COSSACK: But why a truth and reconciliation commission?

NADER: Because it should be viewed with a...

COSSACK: And what is that?

NADER: It is because -- instead of picking at one case at a time, it's to see the patterns of discrimination and prosecutorial ramrodding defendants into life sentences, et cetera, with forged affidavits, et cetera. And she thinks, and a lot of other first Native Americans think, there should be a major task force to raise this issue in a big way and ask, How can we improve justice for first Native Americans.

VAN SUSTEREN: One of the other big issues American are confronting is the computer, Microsoft, that litigation. Republicans seem to be less aggressive when it comes to antitrust, Democrats more aggressive when it comes to antitrust. What would a Nader administration do about a Microsoft-type case?

NADER: Both parties are terrible on antitrust. Look, we have Boeing now, one aircraft company, manufacturer after the McDonnell Douglas merger. They've allowed mergers under Clinton of the giant HMOs, the giant hospital changes, the giant telecommunication companies. Their one bright light is the Microsoft. And I believe antitrust laws police anti-competitive practices and allow competition, especially small-business competition dealing with franchise agreements that put them in a feudal state. It's very important that the antitrust laws be viewed as the best friend of a capitalist, free-market system.

VAN SUSTEREN: But doesn't a big company -- sometimes aren't they more efficient? I mean, doesn't it make sense sometimes for the consumer to have one institution providing the service?

NADER: It's hard to find an example. They get very comforting, very lazy, very smug. There's nothing like a legal -- the only thing worse than a legal monopoly is an illegal monopoly. You know, there are law firms in Washington, D.C., 10 of them, that have more lawyers each than the entire antitrust division of the Justice Department.

COSSACK: And the conclusion for that would be that, therefore, we shouldn't have law firms that big?

NADER: No, the conclusion is we need more federal cops on the anti-competitive, monopolist beat.

COSSACK: A bigger bureaucracy.

NADER: No, more law and order. If you have a lot of street crime, you want sheriffs, you want police. We've got a lot of anti- competitive practice, a lot of price fixing, like the giant vitamin manufacturers price-fixing conspiracy which is disgorging some $700 million back into the federal Treasury. There's just not enough police. The international cartels alone have virtually no antitrust enforcement.

COSSACK: Ralph, I have to interrupt you because that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Weigh in today as "TALKBACK LIVE" -- on "TALKBACK LIVE" as Firestone recalls more than 6 million tires designed for light trucks and sport utility vehicles. That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

VAN SUSTEREN: And join me this evening on CNN "NEWSSTAND." Tonight, the unfriendly skies: how a pilot standoff is causing headaches for the world's largest airline, and maybe for consumers. That's at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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