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Election 2000: Protester Activity Intensifies Outside Supreme Court Ahead of Florida Recount Hearing

Aired December 1, 2000 - 9:51 a.m. ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: In less than 10 minutes from now, the United States Supreme Court will be called to order to hear this very critical case that may will well determine, or at least have some significant impact, on the race to be 43rd president of the United States.

Bob Franken is outside the United States Supreme Court now. Inside and out, Bob, the activity really is starting to reach a pitch.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, although inside I think the term pitch is a very, very quiet pitch, dignified pitch. The scene, of course, inside is decorum that is bound up in tradition.

Outside I would say you have quite an opposite experience here. This would be more like a carnival. It's the happening place to be right now outside the Supreme Court for those who were not able to get inside. You have a large group of people who are Bush supporters who are chanting. They're chanting, in fact, right outside where we're standing. The 1st Amendment rights that they are taking advantage of right now, the right to free expression and the right to peaceable assembly. And there are a huge number of police here to make sure that this assembly is peaceable.

On this side, the Bush campaign supporters, then there's a line of police; on the other side, the Gore supporters. Plenty of police around here to make sure that this festive atmosphere continues. It's the only way to describe it.

Now, inside, of course, the serious business, the arguments between the Gore campaign officials, the lawyers, and the Bush campaign lawyers. The Bush campaign lawyers are the ones who brought this case and got the Supreme Court to hear it on an expedited basis. They are saying that they want the Supreme Court here, the U.S. Supreme Court, to overrule the Florida Supreme Court, to stop the recount in Florida, which would, in effect, if they were successful, mean that George W. Bush would be declared the winner in Florida.

The Gore campaign is saying that this has no business being in federal court, it's a states' rights issue, and that the Florida Supreme Court justices were acting entirely appropriately when they ruled. Those are the arguments that are going on outside. I suspect that a few of the people out here are vaguely aware of those arguments. A lot of them are here just to have fun -- Frank. SESNO: Bob, we know that this is going to begin in just a few minutes. We know the arguments are going to take an hour and a half. What do we know about when we're going to hear any kind of result or decision?

FRANKEN: Well, there is a possibility that this could be decided in a day or so. In fact, there's an expectation that it would only be a few days; that expectation based on the fact that the justices took this in such a quick way as opposed to going through the normal order.

In some cases over the decades, the justices have ruled as quickly as one day. The Rosenberg spy case they made the ruling, the Little Rock school desegregation case they ruled in one day, in the famous Pentagon Papers case, they established an important precedent of prior restraint, saying that you could not have any censorship before something was published. That came in only four days. In fact, that was much more complicated law, many attorneys believe, than this case.

SESNO: And, Bob, all of those case, cases that really shaped the direction and the future of the nation.

OK, to Carl Rochelle now. He's down among the crowd with some of those people who are out there for reasons large and small -- Karl.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Frank, the crowd has grown. You can sense that they feel that they know that the arguments are about to start just momentarily in the court, and that has brought a raise in the pitch of all of the people who are demonstrating out here.

Now, in fairness, I must point out that I am on the Gore- Lieberman side of the protests because you can't get to both sides of this. And some security officers from the court came through a little while ago and split the demonstrators up to make sure if you are a Gore supporter, then you say on this side, on the right side facing the court; if you are a Bush supporter, then you're on the other side. And before they did that, there was a little bit of confrontation -- friendly confrontation, if you will. Not any blows or anything like that, but one side would state a position, the other side would argue it.

Now they're separated and the tenor has gone down. You hear mostly chants from this side that they want all of the votes counted, that they want Gore to win; from the other side, that -- we're hearing the Bush folks saying that Gore lost, give it up, go home.

And that's the tenor here, but the crowd has grown, Frank, since early this morning when we were here. Now several hundred people here. And as we said, we're on the Gore-Lieberman side. The other side back behind me, and you may be able to see that from one of the other shots. That's the area where the Bush side is gathered. They outnumbered the Gore side in the beginning, but now it looks like it's about even from this standpoint. They're waiting to hear what is going on in the court, Frank. SESNO: Carl, I see some of those signs behind you, which prompts the question: How spontaneous is this crowd and how orchestrated is it? Any sense of that yet?

ROCHELLE: They are sort of spontaneous. They are reacting, to some extent, as you and I both know, to the cameras. When they see someone up talking before the cameras, they want to make their point. They're trying to get a message out to the public, is what they're trying to do, Frank.

SESNO: All right, Carl Rochelle, we'll be back to you. And we're going to take a look at that Supreme Court building. And the Supreme Court where this argument begins in just about five minutes -- five, six minutes from now. And, of course, as we've told you many times, the tape recorders will be rolling. When the arguments are over, the court -- the tape, rather, will be brought outside, will be played back for us and for you.

Back to Atlanta.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Frank, thank you very much. Once again, we are covering events from Washington, the protesters there, the arguments that are about to begin at the top of the hour. Also, we have Bill Hemmer, of course, stationed in Tallahassee, Florida. The story today in Florida as those hundreds of thousands of ballots make it from Miami-Dade County up to the state capital. Covering that part of the story as well.



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