The Supreme Court Goes Political

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Sen. Chris Dodd talks about the election Sunday on 'Meet the Press'

No wonder James Baker and David Boies both agreed Sunday that the country would surely heal whomever the Supreme Court taps for the White House on Monday. Forget the red-and-blue nation; we may be looking at a red-and-blue Court, with nine Justices getting divvied amongst the Bush and Gore armies by the principals and their Sunday hosts. Heck, by Christmas we may see Antonin Scalia and John Paul Stevens facing off on "Face the Nation."

As pols, pundits and principals alike all peered over the brink of a big decision by a split Supreme Court, Democrats all got asked if Scalia was on record endorsing George W. Bush, and Republicans were all invited to denounce the wild and crazy Florida Four. (Thus cramming the four dissenting Supremes into an even tinier Democratic box.) Often enough, the consiglieres obliged.

Baker, visibly more relaxed before the cameras ever since he's had Florida Chief Justice Charles Wells to quote admiringly, did look especially confident Sunday as he made the rounds. He spent a lot of time defending his old "judicial fiat" attacks on the Florida Supreme Court (back when it was unanimous) as merely "legal arguments," not unseemly ones. He lovingly quoted Scalia, and grabbed a fistful of high ground. "We're not afraid to let every vote be counted," he told Russert. "The issue is, what is every legal vote?"

But Baker wouldn't declare victory. Instead, he's free to get behind hand counts, with a standard and only if it's truly statewide. New Republican diversion: The overvotes. "There were 175,000 ballots rejected in the state of Florida," Baker declared. "They have to be counted too." He's not sure the vote-reading machines are reliable. But between Wells and Scalia, he figures he's got enough blockers to get Bush in the end zone, and plenty of legal experts say he's correct.

Boies, out front for the Gore camp and learning to talk a very good political game, admitted "obviously we think the dissent had it better" when it came to what result would damage the country. He hopes he can boost their number. But he's also primed to make the ruling five look like activist blunderers, calling the Florida law "absolutely clear" on his ability to challenge any specific group of votes he wants, and the ability of the Florida Supreme Court to fashion any remedy it wants.

And he wasn't having any of those overvotes. "The problem with the machines is that they miss some votes," he responded to Baker. "The problem is not that they register votes that are not there." As for what happens if he loses, Boies sounded like he's ready to take on the Republicans in Congress. If the 5-4 majority held, "then that's the end of it." Boies said. "With respect to the contest we have brought." January hearings, anyone?

Boies also began the process of softening up the Dec. 12 deadline, "which is not a deadline," he told Russert. "It's a safe harbor." Warren Christopher followed up on "Late Edition" (Boies has a big day Monday) and carefully stretched the endgame into next week.

"I don't think this is a very good time to be answering hypothetical questions," Christopher said when asked about Gore quitting with a loss on Monday. Scalia's statement, he said, was merely self-justification for the stay, and not necessarily a predictor of future behavior. "Let's just ride with it and see what happens."

Concession watch

All quiet on this front, with the single exception of Bob Torricelli. The Mouth of the Democrats said on "Face the Nation" that "the next 24 hours should decide this," and that "the loser should concede." Unless he's saying Gore wouldn't need to actually count in order to be president, his money is happily on Bush.

Remember, he not just ambitious, he's the party fund-raiser. And he figures that if Antonin Scalia is the one to drive the stake through Al Gore's heart, the martyr bucks will roll in like never before. And the Republican party might have another polarizing face it would rather do without.