The lawsuit of the century or at least so far of this century has received a makeover, with a new name worthy of the first nationwide election decided by a court.
This case to resolve the nation’s 54th presidential election no longer travels under names like “Palm Beach County Canv. Bd. vs. Harris,” “Jacobs vs. Seminole County,” “Siegel vs. LePore,” and “Katz vs. Elections Canvassing Commission.”
The case officially has become “George W. Bush et al vs. Albert Gore Jr. et al,” or, as it will become known in the law books and future election contests: “Bush vs. Gore.”
That definitive christening with what legal types call the case’s “style” was made Friday night when Bush attorney Theodore B. Olson filed an emergency application to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy the middle-of-the-night drama known to capital cases when lawyers seek to stay the executioner’s hand long enough for all nine justices to consider whether the condemned’s last plea should be heard.
When he asked the high court to “stay enforcement” of the Florida Supreme Court recount order, Mr. Olson invoked the appellant’s occasional prerogative to give the case a name important enough to command attention from the Supreme Court justices.
By a vote of 5 to 4, the court halted the recount pending today’s hearing on the fate of Florida’s 25 electoral votes, which would cinch the election for the winner.
Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski pioneered the tactic of using a name to claim the high ground in 1974 when he renamed the Watergate tapes lawsuit with a “style” intended to imply the moral might of a nation against the dubious actions of one man standing alone: “United States vs. Richard M. Nixon.”
The high court rebuffed Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr in 1997 when he tried the same tactic during the Monica Lewinsky investigation, filing a request at the clerk’s office asking that the case be styled “William Jefferson Clinton vs. United States.”
Despite Mr. Starr’s urgent repeated requests, that case style remained as the White House wanted it, implying a routine spat between two mundane bureaucracies: “Office of the President vs. Office of the Independent Counsel.”