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Around the corner from the television cameras and the boisterous crowds in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning stood a long line of sober-looking men and women. Dressed in overcoats and business suits, many reading newspapers, it was clear who this group was: a hundred or so lawyers hoping to get one of the 75 seats reserved for the Supreme Court Bar. With many arriving before dawn, dozens had no shot of getting in. They could only hope for a spot in the lawyers’ lounge, a small but ornate room where the argument can be heard over a loudspeaker. Among the waiting lawyers was National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland, a veteran of abortion rights cases. “I’ve waited in this line before,” she said. But Ireland’s 7:30 a.m. arrival was too late; she didn’t get in. Inside, past the metal detector, were more lawyers in line. At 8:50 a.m., a Supreme Court police officer announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, all of the seats in the courtroom are now taken.” That left CNN legal analysts Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren, who arrived around 6:30 a.m., as Nos. 2 and 3 into the lawyers lounge. Both earned their J.D.s before becoming color commentators. They’d been chatting with Judge Charles Burton, chairman of the Palm Beach Canvassing Board, who is now famous for his method of holding ballots up to the light to discern a hanging chad. With the weight of the recount off his shoulders, he didn’t look concerned about the announcement. “Supposedly, I have a seat” in the courtroom, he said, considering he’s officially a party in the case. On the other side of the building were the Real People, waiting for one of 50 seats open to the general public. John Fucetola, a 20-year-old George Washington University student, was so interested he showed up at 4 a.m., Thursday, to stand in line for a ticket. “This is something I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about,” said Fucetola, whose ability to withstand the 20-degree windchill for two nights earned him the first seat. He wasn’t alone in the makeshift campground along East Capitol Street. Other early birds included Pat Hirst and her son Mark from Marshall, Va. “Mark is home-schooled,” said Pat, “so this is history class.” Rod Crowther, a 73-year-old retired photographer, knows something about historic oral arguments. In July 1974, he waited all night to get into United States v. Nixon, in which the Court decided to order the release of the Watergate tapes. “It was a lot warmer then,” recalled Crowther, who was No. 11 in line. By 10 p.m., Thursday night, the line snaked around the block. But the real crowds arrived Friday morning, ready for a good old-fashioned First Amendment workout in the shadow of the high court and the Capitol. With their man holding the 537-vote lead in Florida, the Bush group, many of whom sported “Sore-Loserman” T-shirts, felt confident enough to taunt the Gore group by singing, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!” “Count the votes!” responded the vice president’s supporters. “Stay out of the Bushes!” Police in riot helmets guarded the perimeter of the Supreme Court plaza and, like boxing referees, occasionally waded into the mobs to separate the sides. With the Rev. Al Sharpton and former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry Jr. leading chants and marching, the Gore army seemed more organized than their rivals. But Bush supporters, perhaps enjoying their man’s lead in Florida, were more colorful. Mike Sommers, press secretary to Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), described the festivities — complete with flying confetti resembling ballot chad — as “a Republican Woodstock.” Or Halloween. One Bushie was dressed as a ballot box, while another came as Darth Vader, holding a sign decrying the Clinton-Gore “evil empire.” Yet another Bush backer held an enlarged butterfly ballot, complete with yellow butterfly wings. Near a media checkpoint was a lone sign that said, “Let the Cameras In.” That plea had been rejected by the Court earlier in the week, though in an unprecedented move the Court agreed to release an audiotape and a transcript of the argument immediately afterward. Perhaps the folks who waited in line all night for a seat may not have endured the cold if the Court had allowed the event to be televised live. Then again, considering this was history, they may have shown up anyway.

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