The Law of Presidential Transitions and the 2000 Election


The Presidential election of 2000 raised a number of unprecedented legal and political issues. Among those were issues raised by the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, which provides for office space and funding to be made available to the President-elect to effectuate his transition to power. The statute vests in the Administrator of the General Services Administration the power to determine the President-elect under the statute and thereby to release the transition offices and funds. Following the certification of Florida's electoral votes in November 2000, George W. Bush could claim a majority of certified and pledged electoral votes and thus requested the release of the transition resources. The Administrator refused this request and refused to release the transition resources until after the Supreme Court's ruling in Bush v. Gore and Al Gore's subsequent concession. This essay examines the language, legislative history, political history, and policies of the Act and concludes that the Administrator acted improperly in refusing to recognize Bush as the President-elect following the certification of Florida's electoral votes for him. The essay examines the arguments advanced by the Administrator and concludes that they do not justify the vast power and discretion claimed by him under the Act. The essay then briefly considers possible amendments to the statute to prevent similar problems in the future. Most of the legal issues raised by the 2000 election are likely to be unique to that election and are unlikely to arise again in future elections. By contrast, the issues raised by the Presidential Transition Act are likely to occur again in the future, making necessary an understanding of the inaccuracies of the Administrator's acts in the 2000 election as well as the proper interpretation of the Act.