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Will U.S. Supreme Court justices get along in Bush v. Gore aftermath?

Supreme Court of the United States  

By Raju Chebium Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court decided the historic presidential election case, Bush v. Gore, late Tuesday. The dissents were passionate and angry. The justices were accused of political partisanship.

What does this fractious climate do to relations among the justices? Will the fallout from Bush v. Gore and the earlier election-related case, Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, disrupt the harmony within the nation's highest court and cause justices to engage in increased public bickering?

graphic VIDEO
CNN's Charles Bierbauer and Roger Cossack analyze the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore (December 12)

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• U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Bush v. Gore (FindLaw)

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Simultaneous audio and transcript of the hearing in Bush v. Gore
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• Official court transcript of oral arguments in Bush v. Gore PDF | HTML
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Listen to the audio from the Supreme Court hearing (December 11)
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graphic IN-DEPTH
graphic GALLERY
Scenes of protest and patience as Supreme Court weighs Bush v. Gore
graphic TIMELINE
Key events in the Gore election contest

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U.S. Supreme Court order granting a stay of recounts *

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graphic RESOURCE
How the U.S. Supreme Court voted on the recount stay

Two former Supreme Court clerks and a longtime court observer said Wednesday that is not likely because the justices always maintain good relations even after bruising battles over contentious issues such as abortion. But one former clerk disagreed, saying he has never seen this much discord between the justices.

"Most of these people are pretty good friends with each other and I don't think this is going to change," said Laura Ingraham, a Washington columnist who clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas in 1993. "The Supreme Court of the United States will continue to be the lone institution of government that remains above the political fray."

Elizabeth Garrett, deputy dean at the University of Chicago law school who clerked for deceased Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1989-1990, also said the justices would continue to have harmonious relations. But she expressed concern that the public might begin to take a dim view of the nation's highest court in the wake of Bush v. Gore.

Bruce Fein, a McLean, Virginia, lawyer and a longtime court observer, said the dissents in past abortion cases like the Stenberg v. Carhart decided this year, were far more acrimonious, making the rancor of the Bush v. Gore writings seem tame in comparison.

Though the current justices have split 5-4 on numerous occasions in the past few years, some of them still play "poker on weekends," Fein said.

Some of the fiercest ideological rivals on the bench are also close friends outside the court, Fein said. For instance, conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist and liberal Justice William Brennan clashed almost always in their opinions, but were good friends, Fein said.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who rarely agree given their respective conservative and liberal ideologies, are opera buffs and spend time together.

"Justice Thomas, in public speeches, has said one thing that has awed him is that he has never heard ever a syllable out ... of any justice even insinuating that politics was influencing their vote," Fein noted. "I'm not saying they are taking vacations together or anything like that ... but the civility of the discourse remains the same."

But Neal Katyal, who clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer in 1996-1997, disagreed, saying many of his fellow clerks, both conservative and liberal like him, agree that relations between the justices might have well reached a low point because of the disagreements over the elections cases.

"I think it's impossible to say without being inside there. But I have never seen a tone like this in a dissent in which people openly lament the politicization and loss of trust in the court," said Katyal, a Georgetown University law professor with ties to the Gore campaign.

"Justice (Stephen) Breyer almost never dissents," Katyal said. "For him to be that strident I think reflects the deep underlying concern about the appearance of political impropriety."

U.S. Supreme Court focuses on federal issues, recount standards in presidential election case
December 11, 2000
U.S. Supreme Court hears Florida election case -- again
December 10, 2000
Scalia and Stevens clash over recount stay in Bush v. Gore
December 10, 2000
Possibility of Electoral College defections raised
December 10, 2000

Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of Florida

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