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MARGARET WARNER: For the first time ever, a disputed presidential election went before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justices heard arguments today on Governor Bush’s challenge to a Florida Supreme Court ruling that let hand recounts continue past an initial deadline. There was no word on when the High Court would have a decision. The battle continued in Tallahassee as well. The state Supreme Court turned down Vice President Gore’s request that it order an immediate recount of disputed ballots. A lower court judge also refused to do so. He’s scheduled a full hearing tomorrow on whether a recount is warranted.
As part of that case, some 650,000 ballots from Miami-Dade County were trucked to Tallahassee, in the event the judge does order a full or partial recount. And the Bush team asked to have an additional 1.2 million ballots shipped from three more counties, saying they include “illegal votes” for Gore. Also today, the state Supreme Court refused to order a new election in Palm Beach County. Some Democratic voters had said the county’s “butterfly ballot” was too confusing. Now, Betty Ann Bowser sets the scene for this historic day at the U.S. Supreme Court.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The competition for a seat to history began over night as some diehards camped out on the streets around the Supreme Court. By early morning, their ranks had swelled to hundreds. People lined up in near freezing temperatures hoping to get one of the 50 seats reserved for spectators inside the courtroom. Groups of demonstrators, for both the Bush and Gore camps, gathered outside the high court– many chanting and carrying signs.
PROTESTERS: Hey, hey, ho, ho, al Gore has got to go!
BETTY ANN BOWSER: At one point, the partisanship got so boisterous that police had to separate the two groups.
POLICE OFFICER: Do me a favor. Go back to the other side.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Because of the historic nature of today’s events, reporters and television crews came from all over the world, but seating for them inside the courtroom was also limited so most had to do their work from vantage points outside the building. Inside the Supreme Court, promptly at 10:00, the nine Justices began hearing arguments from both sides.
The court was led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist who was appointed by President Nixon and later named chief Justice by President Reagan. Of the remaining eight Justices, six were appointed by republican presidents; two by President Clinton. Each legal team got 45 minutes to make its case before the Justices, 15 minutes more than the high court usually allows.
The Bush lawyers, who brought the case to the Supreme Court, were led by Washington attorney Theodore Olson, a former assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, and Joseph Klock, a Miami, Florida attorney who represented Republican Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
Then the court heard from the Gore team led by constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School, and Paul Hancock, an assistant attorney general from Tallahassee who represented his boss, Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth.