A Supreme Moment


The crowd outside the Supreme Court last Friday was the perfect picture of America in the days since the election–loud, bawdy and rude. A scrappy throng of Bush and Gore supporters, kept carefully at bay by a team of uniformed officers, waved their signs–sore loserman!–and shouted their slogans–"G.W.B., how many votes did you steal from me?" Inside the muted, high-ceilinged marble temple, the scene was more like opening night at the Kennedy Center. In the days before the hearing, all of elite Washington had gently elbowed for scarce tickets to the hottest show in town. Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg chatted with her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who mingled with legal lion Lloyd Cutler and Sen. Orrin Hatch. Al Gore’s children were there, taking it in from the good seats.

At a few seconds before 10, the cocktail-party chatter was quickly hushed, and soon forgotten, as the nine justices appeared on the elevated bench and the arguments began. Ninety long, combative minutes later, the early predictions that the court would bring quick finality to the election mess seemed unlikely indeed. So did the confident assertions by the Gore camp and so many legal "experts" that the justices would slap down Bush’s case and side overwhelmingly with the Florida Supreme Court–paving the way for more recounts that might put the vice president over the top. Once again this case reminded us of the immutable truth about the court: Predict at Your Peril.

For the argument’s first 45 minutes, the justices–including the more conservative ones–seemed to have Bush lawyer Theodore B. Olson and his colleagues on the ropes, asking tough, skeptical questions. It appeared to many that Gore would coast to a smashing victory. But that abruptly changed in the 45 minutes that followed. While the four m…

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