The Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, issued eight years ago this month, was widely understood to work like that tape recorder in "Mission: Impossible." It was meant to produce a president and then self-destruct.
"Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances," the majority famously said, "for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities."
That sentence, translated from high legal jargon into English, was often taken to mean this: The decision was a ticket for one ride only. It was not a precedent. It was a ruling, yes, but it was not law.
But now, as the petitioner leaves the national stage, Bush v. Gore is turning out to have lasting value after all. "You're starting to see courts invoke it," said Samuel Issacharoff, a law professor at New York University, "and you're starting to see briefs cite it."
We elected Barack Obama with the understanding that he would likely close some of these holes, and perhaps ignore others, but asking a President to completely ignore convenient precedents is like asking a man to not use his left arm for four or eight years. It's simply not going to happen so long as they are available.