The rhetoric at the Supreme Court Friday during oral arguments in the case Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board was sharp, rancorous and at times immature.
We’re not talking about the debate inside the Court, where dozens of lawyers, politicians, celebrities, reporters and onlookers assembled to watch the historic hearing that could affect the outcome of the presidential election.
We're talking about outside the halls of jurisprudence where thousands gathered to chant, entertain and take pictures.
Protesters from both sides turned out early, before 7 a.m., waving signs and screaming slogans. Others, mainly tourists, stood across the street from the Court, surveying the scenes and etching it in their permanent memory with video recorders.
Early in the morning, the exchanges were controlled, as the two sides, separated by two rows of security officers, chanted in their respective zones.
Bush supporters screamed “Military votes count too,” while Democrats countered with “DUI.” Later in the morning, as more Gore demonstrators arrived at the Court, the slogans got more creative – and a lot more heated.
“Sexist, racist, anti-gay, Bush and Cheney go away!” they yelled.
Like dedicated — or obsessed — sports fans, both sides arrived at the Court wearing their team colors on their sleeves, collars and bookbags.
Bush protester Jane Bonvillain, of Virginia, arrived carrying a “Sore Loserman” sign. She was dressed in a red turtleneck, a “Bush is my president” T-shirt and red pea coat.
“If Gore is successful in stealing this election through his attorneys, I will not acknowledge him as my president,” said Bonvillain. “And I know many people who feel this way.”
The Grinch, or “Gorinch,” in some cases, was a popular choice for pro-Bush demonstrators. Mary Ellen Schick, of Maryland, arrived at the Supreme Court before 8 a.m. yesterday, carrying a green sign that pictured Gore's face imposed on a Grinch figure.
Another Grinch sign read, “How the Gorinch almost stole the Florida election.”
“I'm concerned about the rule of law,” said Schick. Asked whether or not she thought the protesters, some of whom were dressed as elephants and Darth Vader wannabes were creating a circus atmosphere, she said: “What's going on in Florida – that's a circus.”
Jim Berray's pro-Bush sign was inspired by another famous children's character, Sesame Street's Count.
“I was a guy who missed the ‘60s, and I wanted to see what was going on,” said Berray, a pilot from Ohio.
The prize for most unique and original costume and sign design, however, might go to District resident Mike Hardiman, a.k.a. Darth Vader, and his butterfly ballot.
“This is the butterfly ballot,” said Hardiman, as he pointed his red lightsaber at the enlarged ballot with orange butterfly wings. “And there are many ways you can vote for Al Gore.”
Voters can punch the ballot line for Al Gore, the vice president; Al Gore, the alpha male, Al Gore, the Internet inventor – the list goes on.
“We have a butterfly ballot special, too,” he said. “You can vote for Pat Buchanan and still vote for Al Gore,” pointing at Buchanan's ballot line marked “a.k.a. Al Gore.”
“Every vote counts,” he said. “Again and again and again.”
But Hardiman, said he is an equal opportunity heckler. He wrote-in his name for president. “I rule the chads,” he proclaimed to the crowd.
As the day dragged on, more Democrats, including a contingent led by Rev. Jesse Jackson, arrived at the Supreme Court, but their signs and slogans weren't nearly as imaginative.
Twenty-one year-old Anjan Choudhury and 30 other students from The George Washington University College Democrats chanted “Count the votes!” and held up blue Gore-Lieberman signs provided by the Democratic National Committee.
“We're not as creative as some of these people,” he said.