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“He said WHAT?”

“Jesus, Josh,” hissed C.J. Cregg, holding her cell phone away from her ear and wincing.  Josh’s outburst had been loud enough that it had blared tinnily into the icy winter air around her and caused a number of passing tourists to turn and stare.  “Yeah, that’s what he said, and you can be upset about it without causing anyone permanent deafness.”

“That jackass,” Josh Lyman fumed as C.J. clacked down the sidewalk in her high-heeled boots, pulling her scarf closer around her neck.  “Who the hell does he think he is?”

“Well, I’d say he thinks that he’s one of nine holders of a permanent seat on the highest court in the land,” C.J. countered, craning her neck down Constitution Avenue to check for oncoming traffic.

“This isn’t funny, C.J.,” snapped Josh.  C.J. could just imagine him crouching over his disorderly desk, running a hand furiously through his mop of now-silver hair.  “We’re hypothetically talking about a direct threat to a critical right exercised by — by at least a third of women across America, not to mention a threat to several decades’ worth of case law...”

“Josh, I know.”

“Amy’s gonna go ballistic on his ass.”  C.J. heard something crash on Josh’s end of the line and suspected that he now owed the Brookings Institution a new wastepaper basket.  “I’m gonna go ballistic on his ass.  It’s one thing to hear crackpot legislators from Podunk, Oklahoma, make asinine statements like this, but for someone with this much, this much prominence, and legitimacy, to even insinuate...”

I know, Josh,” C.J. repeated, “but promise me something, OK?  Take a deep breath before you make any public statements about it.  Don’t do or say anything too stupid.”

“You don’t need to warn me not to do anything stupid, why on earth would I do anything stupid?” snarled Josh into the phone.  There followed another loud crash, a yelp, and a long string of imaginative expletives.

“Josh?” C.J. heard Donna Moss say on the other end of the line.  “What are you doing?”

“Mourning the goddamn demise of American democracy,” moped Josh.

“Give me that,” said Donna’s voice, accompanied by the scuffling sounds of Josh’s cell phone changing possession.  “Hello?”

“Hi, Donna, it’s C.J.”

“Hey, C.J.  Um, can you explain to me why my husband is lying on the floor of his office, clutching his foot?”

C.J. heard Josh begin to give an explanation, but Donna cut him off.

“You just ruined the end of my podcast interview on the impact of the budget sequestration on school lunch programs.  So you don’t get to talk right now, Joshua.  Sorry, C.J., you were saying?”

C.J. stopped before the Russell Senate Office Building, and glanced back across the street towards the brilliantly milky façade of the United States Supreme Court.

“A friend invited me to the oral argument in Blumenfeld, and about half an hour ago, Justice Mulready suggested that doctors who perform abortions should be tried for capital offenses,” she said.  “And he further implied that women who willfully terminate a pregnancy should be prosecuted under the same standards.”

“Oh my god,” breathed Donna.

"Yeah.”  C.J. sighed, and flung a hand into the air to hail a taxi.  “Make sure that Josh doesn’t do anything he’ll regret, OK?”

“Don’t worry, I won’t let him outside until he’s cooled down,” said Donna.

“You can’t treat me like one of the kids, Donna!” yelled Josh (C.J. suspected that he was still lying on the floor of his office).

“Or near his phone, or near a computer, and yes I can, dear,” Donna continued.  “Was there a lot of press?”

“Not as bad as it would have been if the case were actually about abortion, but yeah, the standard crowd.  New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, AP, Slate, Politico, all the major TV networks — take your pick.  I give it an hour before it starts making headlines on at least every politics section homepage of the above.”

“Thanks, C.J.”  Donna paused.  “Did we really screw up?”

Every once in a while, the odd case made C.J. wonder if they had.  The Court had shuffled in the decade and change since the end of the Bartlet Administration; the oldest moderates had hung up their robes, and their seats had been filled with a jumble of jurists of varying political stripes.  Christopher Mulready remained the undisputed leader of the conservative faction of the Court in his unabashed genius, and C.J., while not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination, could see his genteel fingerprints all over each right-leaning opinion that the Court handed down.

But, then again, C.J. Cregg knew as well as anyone that not even the best fighter in Washington could win every single round.  And the Court had issued at least as many left-leaning opinions over the past decade.

“Of course we didn’t,” she told Donna, stepping into the cab that had just veered dangerously through two lanes of traffic to reach her at the curb.  “As long as the Chief Justice keeps doing her job, we didn’t.”

For the first time in all of his years on the Supreme Court, Roberto Mendoza somewhat resented the de facto rule that prevented the Justices from discussing work matters during lunch.

Ron Dreifort was trying to engage him in a conversation about the previous night’s football stats, but Roberto hadn’t watched the game, and was certain that even if he had, he wouldn’t have found it nearly as interesting as watching the Chief Justice deliberately avoid talking to Chris Mulready.  He had noticed it from the moment that Chris had pulled out a chair for himself next to Evie, like he usually did, only to see her pointedly turn her back on him and take an intensely forced interest in something that Harry Clark was telling her about his dietary medications.  Chris had flinched almost imperceptibly, and then, resuming his unflappable demeanor, sat down in that chair anyway, shooting a furtive glance of annoyance at his colleague’s back as he did so.  Roberto spent the ensuing three minutes watching Chris aggressively attack a salad with his attention determinedly fixed on his food, until a faulty jab at a dressing-soaked cherry tomato sent it spinning into the center of his tie, and Chris leapt up with a sharp curse that earned him a glare of disapproval from Harry as Chris stormed away.

“Let him be,” Ron muttered as Roberto began to push himself out of his chair to follow.  “It’s a boring tie, anyway.”

“I’m not worried about his tie, Ron,” said Roberto, exasperated.

"Well, maybe for the moment, that’s all you should be worrying about,” Ron warned him, and then leaned across the table.  “Hey, Harry!  How about those Steelers last night, huh?”

Roberto glanced at the Chief Justice, who, freed from Harry’s pharmaceutical explanations, was now laughing perfunctorily at something that Jenny Chang had just said.  Evie was still refusing to acknowledge even the chair in which Chris had been sitting moments earlier. It didn’t surprise Roberto when, a few moments later, she politely excused herself and left the room.

Jenny met Roberto’s gaze across the table, comically quirked an eyebrow at the salad that Chris had left behind, and sighed.

“Wanna help me clean up?” she asked him drily, standing and collecting the abandoned salad along with her own lunch.

Roberto smiled sympathetically and followed Jenny out of the dining room.

“What the hell is up with the Chief today?” Jenny asked without fanfare as she dumped the uneaten remnants of the salad into the trash in the corridor outside and tried to stuff the plastic container into an overfilled recycling bin.

Roberto shrugged.

“Probably still miffed at the hypothetical that Chris used during the Blumenfeld argument.”

“But it’s Chris,” Jenny pointed out.  “We’d all be ten times more surprised if he came to work one day and announced that he suddenly fully supported universities distributing free condoms to their students.  Sure, it was an insensitive thing to say, but she can’t be all that shocked if he’s being his typically contrarian self.”

“Yeah, maybe.”  Roberto sighed.  “Poor Chris.”

“Poor Chris?”  Jenny’s eyebrows shot up in amusement.

“If he were any more demonstrative, he would have reminded me of a kicked puppy at lunch today, sulking behind Evie’s back like that,” Roberto explained.

Jenny snorted with laughter.

“It’s his own damn fault for pushing buttons that he knows he should keep his hands off,” she said.  “Those two are thick as thieves; I can’t imagine them playing the silent game with each other for too long.  They’ll get over it in a few hours, just you wait.”

It was a well-known joke amongst the Chief Justice’s clerks that you could predict her mood by the sort of music she played off of her computer while she worked.  British Invasion indicated general cheer; Bach piano inventions, introspection; Édith Piaf, an extra edge of whimsy to the day.  Large choral works on repeat typically meant that the boss was behind on learning her music for the local concert choir with which both she and Justice Mulready’s wife sang, and was attempting to absorb the alto line by aural osmosis.

The oddest days were those rare few when utter silence rang from the Chief Justice’s office.  None of her clerks were ever quite certain whether or not it would be appropriate for one of them to play something off their speakers to fill the void, and so they instead let the hush soak into every facet of the rooms, walking slowly to avoid noisy footfalls, speaking in respectful whispers where they usually chatted and gossiped.  Several clerks who had grown up in snowy regions of the United States had remarked independently that “quiet days” in chambers reminded them of the stillness of the first snowfall of winter.  But this day, to the recollection of the four clerks assembled, was the first in memory that that stillness had contained any real hint of ice.

And so, after half an hour of fastidiously not talking about Justice Mulready, it was something of a relief to all of the Chief Justice’s clerks when the man himself appeared at the door of her chambers: impeccably dressed (as usual), now sporting an unsullied tie, and utterly unrepentant for the awkwardness that he was causing everyone.

“You’re all awfully quiet today,” he said at a normal volume, causing the four young people before him to jump in alarm.  “Is she in?”

“Just a moment, sir,” said Grace as politely as she could under the circumstances, and, after checking with the Chief, returned and told Justice Mulready that he could enter her office.

Christopher Mulready had known Evelyn Baker Lang for nearly two decades, and since their first encounter as two young, cocksure federal appellate judges at an American Bar Association conference, he had prided himself on always being able to make her smile.  To be sure, the first smile he had ever received from her was one of mild condescension as she listened to him expound at length on the baselessness of substantive due process claims, before parrying with an elegant rebuttal on the merits of reading unenumerated rights into the Fourteenth Amendment.  But although their first argument had ended in a friendly stalemate — as had almost all of their debates since — Chris knew that, in that moment, Evie had felt the same sense of charged elation at finding a sparring partner equal to her own intellect.  Even after a decade spent together on the highest court in the land, she still greeted him every day with a challenging grin, inviting and daring him to match his wits against hers once more.

Which was why Chris was so stunned to walk into Evie’s office and be greeted with only a tight-lipped nod of acknowledgement from his old friend, who watched in stony silence as he fumbled (uncharacteristically) for what exactly it was he wanted to say.

“All right, fine, let’s not beat about the bush, then,” Chris said finally, closing the door behind him.  “I said something tactless in public, and the Court is probably going to get some bad press for the next 48 hours.  I’m probably going to get some bad press for the next 48 hours.  I acknowledge it was a mistake, and I certainly wouldn’t do it again, but seriously, Evie, is that a good reason to give me the cold shoulder all through lunch?”

“Maybe I just didn’t have much to say to you during lunch today,” Evie replied coolly.

“Of course, because listening to Harry reel off his daily intake of pills makes for such scintillating conversation,” Chris scoffed.  “Roberto kept on shooting me these little looks of pity from across the table — it was awful.”

“Chris,” Evie sighed, “what exactly do you want me to say?  That I’m sorry for being angrier with you than I’ve ever been in my life?  Because I’m not sorry, and you’re perceptive enough to recognize that.”

“Please!”  Chris rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand and sighed impatiently.  “It was a hypothetical...”

“That was entirely out of place in the context of Blumenfeld, is already causing a media firestorm that I’m going to have to put out, and was just plain insulting, Chris!”  Evie wasn’t going to give her colleague the satisfaction of bringing her to her feet in indignation, but she pushed her chair aggressively backwards for emphasis.  “There are people out there who actually believe what you put forward in your insane hypothetical today, and you’ve just given them more ammunition than the establishment has ever offered them before!  Did you even think of what kind of impact this is going to have on local election platforms moving forward, with the wholesale criminalization of a perfectly legal act rapidly becoming a standard talking point?”

“But that’s the point, maybe it shouldn’t be a perfectly legal act!” Chris fumed, slapping a fist on the top of Evie’s desk.  “Isn’t that something that the American people have the right to decide, rather than rely on the spotty morality handed down to them by a notoriously activist Court in the 1970s?  And, for the record, maybe your circles think that my hypothetical was ‘insane,’ as you’ve put it, but believe me, it’s a more mainstream view than you may realize.  The world exists beyond the borders of the Beltway, you know.”

“The purpose of our separation of powers is to ensure that minorities are protected by the courts when they don’t have the votes to gain recognition through democratic processes...”

“And women make up more than half of the electorate, so why should you be afraid of letting them vote on the legality of abortion?” Chris countered.

“The average American doesn’t know enough about abortion to be able to vote on it sensibly, and most of the people they elect to Congress certainly don’t, either,” Evie argued.  “If I were reassured that voters understood the scientific principles behind viability and medical procedures, I wouldn’t have any qualms about letting them decide for themselves.  But given the campaigns of misinformation put out there by interest groups to confound the basic principles behind abortion — and the resultant waiting periods, and transvaginal ultrasounds, and parental and spousal consent restrictions — it’s clear to me that the debate is being manipulated by groups playing off of fear and social ostracization to push an agenda that disenfranchises women.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, women have ample opportunity to enfranchise themselves,” retorted Chris.  “What you’re blatantly ignoring is that the unborn have a right to life — the unborn, who constitute a minority class in far more need of protection than women in this day and age." 

“Except that it’s practically impossible to formulate a legal definition for when life begins, and advances in medical technology will probably soon eclipse any natural definition that we currently have for the concept of ‘viability,’ meaning that women who discover that they’re pregnant have a smaller and smaller window of time in which to seek abortions, on top of the excessive travel times and concentrated attempts to close easily accessible abortion-providing clinics across the nation.  So how can you say that women don’t need protection from legislatures and local authorities that are doing their utmost to infringe on their right to choose if and when they have children?”

“What I don’t understand,” said Chris loudly, “is how you can defend the very concept, Evie.  How you, a smart, educated, well-intentioned person, can defend the notion of taking away a life.  I know it’s a liberal standard of pride to defend Roe, but for god’s sake, if you think about it independently for a moment, why shouldn’t a fetus count as a living human being?  And, therefore, why shouldn’t doctors and women who willfully take away the life of that fetus be held to the same legal standards as they would if they willfully murdered a person who had already been born?”

Evie regarded him icily.

“So you personally stand by your hypothetical, then?” she asked.

“Yes, I do,” Chris proclaimed.  “And I’m convinced that you would, too, if you pulled your head out of your liberal cloudbank of principle and looked at the facts as they exist on the ground.  These individuals intentionally kill defenseless people.  In states that still permit capital punishment, it should apply to abortionists, as it would to any other murderers.”

Evie said nothing for a long moment, and then exhaled slowly.

“Well, you’d have to put me on death row along with the rest, then, Chris,” she said. 

“Oh, please, leave the bra-burning and civil disobedience to the angry protestors,” Chris quipped, rolling his eyes.

“If you’re applying the standard equally to individuals across the nation, then you’re all but signing a warrant for my execution,” Evie repeated, her voice even but her knuckles white where her clenched hands rested on the surface of her desk, not a foot away from Chris’s.

Chris stared at her, then slowly pulled his hand away.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“What I’m saying is that I had a safe, legal abortion when I was in law school.”  Evie smiled mirthlessly.  “I wonder, is there any statute of limitations attached to your hypothetical?”

“Stop being ridiculous, Evie,” snapped Chris, his face flushing.

“It’s true,” she said calmly.  “I mean, statistically speaking, you were bound to have a friend who had had an abortion at some point in her life.  I doubt I’m the only one.”

“I don’t believe you,” spat Chris.  “I really don’t.  You couldn’t have kept this hidden for this long!  How could I not have known?  How could the Senate not have found out?”

“Because you never asked me, and it’s not exactly the sort of thing you tell people unsolicited, is it?” replied Evie acerbically.  “And you’ve been through the exact same nomination process that I have, Chris — at what point do you remember the FBI asking you to disclose any abortions that you had had?”

“Some people would say that you hid this from the American public!” Chris exploded.

“Some people would say that the American public never asked, and it was none of their business, anyway!” Evie shouted back, her body tensing in her chair like a coiled spring.  “The Constitution says that I have a right to privacy...”

“No, Griswold claims that you have a right to privacy, protected not by any plain-text reading of the Constitution, but rather by some spurious penumbra...”

“Interpret the Fourteenth Amendment any way you choose, Chris, but I still had no obligation to disclose it — and if I had, why should it have mattered?  It was absolutely legal.  I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Well, perhaps it was legal, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean that it wasn’t wrong.”  Chris glared at her.  “Jesus.  I advocated for you, you know.  I told Jed Bartlet to put you on the Court, if he could, because you were brilliant and qualified, and because I assumed at the time that you were fundamentally a good person.  And now you tell me that this is who you really were all along, and I can’t even begin to express how disappointed I am, Evelyn.”

In spite of her previous resolve, Evie rose to her feet in one sudden, fluid motion.

“That’s Madam Chief Justice,” she corrected her colleague through gritted teeth.  “And you can get out of my office.”

Chris stared at Evie for a moment longer, betrayal etched in every line of his face.

“This won’t stay hidden, you realize,” he snapped.  “People deserve to know.”

And then he turned on his heel, wrenched open the door to Evie’s office, and slammed it behind him.

The clerks watched the irate Justice storm through the rest of the chambers and out into the hallway, any sense of wintery stillness long since broken by the muffled shouting that they had tried to ignore moments before.  They sat at their desks, carefully exchanging petrified glances with one another, until, after about a minute, the Chief Justice herself opened the door of her office and offered them the best smile that she could manage.

“I apologize for that racket a moment ago,” she said in a painstakingly controlled voice.  “I’m stepping out, but I should be back soon.  Grace, if you can get me that draft of the Middlebury opinion by sometime this afternoon, that would be great.  Raheem, I also want to refine my arguments in the opinion for Chow — let’s see if we can make it representative of at least one other Justice’s point of view.  I’ll see you all in a bit.”

And, still displaying the most reassuring smile she could, the Chief Justice walked calmly out of her chambers, leaving behind her a silence more profound than the one that had preceded Justice Mulready’s visit.

 The phone rang four times in Josh’s office before Donna, sighing, answered it. 

“Josh Lyman’s office.”

“Hello?” said a familiar-sounding voice that Donna couldn’t quite place.  “I was, ah, hoping to reach Mr. Lyman in person, if he’s available.”

“He’s not in right now, but is there anything that I can do to help you?”

“That depends.  Are you his assistant?”

“No, I’m his wife,” said Donna, rubbing her eyelids with one hand and contemplating how best to get back at Josh for the fact that she was still answering his office phone, all these years later.

“His wife?”  The voice on the phone sounded amused.  “This is Josh Lyman’s line at Brookings, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.  I’m a fellow here, as well.”

“Really!  In what field, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Fiscal policy, looking mainly at government spending on social welfare programs, but extending to budget negotiations and the associated politicking.”

“Well, that sounds fascinating.”

“You’re one of the few people who’s ever said that to me without any evident sarcasm, so, thank you,” said Donna.  “Did you want to leave a message?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”  The voice sighed softly.  “It’s a somewhat tricky situation, but I hope that I can count on your discretion?”

“I think so, ma’am?”  Donna furrowed her eyebrows as she dug through Josh’s desk drawer for a pen and post-it note.  “Could I get your name and phone number?”

“Yes, this is Evelyn Lang,” replied the voice more briskly, “and my number is (202)...”

“I’m sorry,” Donna interjected excitedly, “as in, Chief Justice Evelyn Lang?”

“I know this is somewhat unorthodox, but...”

“Oh my god!”  Donna leaned back in Josh’s chair, beaming.  “I can’t believe this.  I helped out with your nomination — sort of.  Did Josh ever tell you about my parents’ cats?”

“I’m sorry... cats?”

“You know what?  Never mind,” said Donna quickly.  “Thank you for all of your work on the Court, though.  And sorry, you were saying that your number was...?”

Donna had just begun frantically scribbling on a post-it note when C.J. appeared in the doorway of the office and blinked in surprise to see Donna there.

Where’s Josh? she mouthed, hanging a garment bag on the back of the office door.

It’s Evelyn Lang! Donna mouthed back, pointing towards the phone with a giddy grin on her face.  “Yes, I got all that, thanks.  And what should I say your reason for calling is?”

C.J. had just migrated across the office and squeezed haphazardly into an armchair dominated by an imposing adjacent potted fern when Donna glanced up at her.

“Actually, Madam Chief Justice, she’s right here,” Donna said, and held the phone out to C.J., who extracted herself from beneath the fronds of the fern with some difficulty and grabbed at the handset.

“This is C.J. Cregg,” she said calmly, gesturing frantically in confusion at the phone while Donna shrugged back at her.

“Ms. Cregg,” said Justice Lang.  “Well, this is serendipitous.  I couldn’t find your contact information online, but Josh Lyman’s number was on the Brookings website, so I called to see if he might be able to put us in touch, and here you are.”

“Yes, here I am,” C.J. responded cheerfully, pretending not to be half as mystified as she felt.  “How can I help you, Your Honor?”

The Chief Justice cleared her throat.

“I recognized you in the audience at the oral arguments this morning, if that’s not too strange to say,” she said carefully, “and was hoping that I might rely on your communications expertise, with regards to potential fallout from some of the more inflammatory rhetoric that was put forth.”

“I’d be happy to assist in any way that I can, of course,” C.J. answered, “but I honestly don’t think that anything that Justice Mulready said would have a tremendously lasting negative impact on the image of the Court or..." 

“Ms. Cregg, I know that you were one of the few people in the White House who were privy to the information that delayed my addition to the President’s short list for so long,” said the Chief Justice wearily.  “Toby Ziegler once mentioned in passing that you opposed the President’s decision to nominate me because you were afraid that I might be publicly eviscerated on account of my past, should it become widely known.  Well, now I’m afraid that that precise scenario might be looming on the horizon, and even though I’m far from being your responsibility anymore, I wanted to call and ask for your counsel — for your help — as someone who once cared.”

Of course C.J. knew that everyone who worked in Washington was, in the end, a human being.  Having worked at the White House, she knew better than most that the most powerful people in the land spent half of their time making laughably human mistakes and trying their best to maintain some semblance of dignity, in spite of it all.  But the Supreme Court had always had a certain removed air to it, one that allowed it to project dignity and pomp and solemnity in such a way that it took on the trappings of an institution far more ancient and venerable than its coequal branches of government.  It shouldn’t have been jarring for C.J. to hear the most powerful jurist in the country suddenly sound so vulnerable and alone, but it somehow was.

“I’m only in town until tomorrow morning, but I’ll be free for the next hour or two, if that’s convenient,” C.J. said.  “Can you meet somewhere outside the Court?”

“I’m currently sitting on a bench halfway down the Hill, but it’s a little chilly out here, not to mention exposed.  How about the Botanic Garden?  It’s warmer in there, at least.”

“I’ll be over in half an hour.”

C.J. handed the phone to Donna, who placed it back on its base, still grinning and swiveling back and forth slightly in Josh’s chair. 

“That plant is a hazard to public safety,” C.J. remarked, gesturing behind her at the offending fern.

“I just had a conversation with the Chief Justice of the United States!” Donna exclaimed.

“Donna, you used to have fairly regular conversations with the President...”

“I know, but this is different, and don’t be such a killjoy — you sound like Josh.”

“Sorry.”  C.J. glanced around the room.  “Where is Josh, by the way?”

“I sent him to go get his foot checked out.  He thought he might have fractured a toe earlier today.”

“I can see why,” C.J. said, picking a heavily dented metal wastepaper basket off the floor and setting it back down next to the desk.  “Things OK otherwise?”

“Oh, same old, same old.  Josh’s book is being released next month, and I’m trying to keep him from driving us all insane before then, but nothing too new.  You’re heading out of town?”

“Yeah, to a symposium at UC Berkeley.  Short trip, but it’ll be nice to escape from the cold.”  C.J. peeled the sticky note with Evie Lang’s number on it off of the pad, which she tossed back onto Josh’s desk.  “Listen, I’m going to leave my stuff here and swing by to change before the Kennedy Center thing tonight.”

“Sure.  Josh never locks his office door, so you can leave your bag where it is.  I don’t know how bad his foot is, but if he can walk, we’ll see you there.”

“Well, I hope you can make it, but if Josh has broken something and has to stay home, please tell him that I think he’s an idiot, and that I miss him and he should call me more often.”

“Will do.  He says you owe him coffee.”

“He owes me coffee.  Actually he owes me two coffees, because the last time he owed me coffee, he managed to spill it all over my shirt while he was handing it to me.”

“You’d better get going,” Donna said, gesturing at the clock.  “Good luck, and let me know how it goes?”

“Yeah,” said C.J., retrieving her purse from the fern-smothered armchair and scowling as a frond gently smacked her in the face.

“‘Madam Chief Justice,’” Donna remarked, mostly to herself.  “You know, I still get a kick out of hearing people say that. I don’t think it’ll ever get old.”

“I’ll see you around, Donna.  We’ll all do dinner, or something, when I’m back from Cal.”  C.J. stopped in the doorway.  “We did do the right thing,” she repeated, although anyone who had heard the former West Wing official would have wondered if she weren’t in fact trying to reassure herself.

C.J. wandered through the Conservatory at the Botanic Garden for ten minutes, increasingly astounded that there were so many different types of foliage in the world, before she finally found the Chief Justice sitting on a bench in a far corner of the Garden Court, surrounded by dark, glossy leaves and the susurrus of a quietly gurgling fountain.

“Hi,” C.J. said awkwardly, raising one hand in greeting and ducking around a bunch of bananas that was dangling precariously close to her head.

Evie Lang looked up from the brief that she had been perusing.

“Thanks for coming out here on such short notice,” she said, slipping the brief back into her bag and standing to shake C.J.’s hand.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting,” C.J. said.  “I got somewhat lost amongst the orchids in the other room.”

“Well, I'll be the last person to condemn such a scenic detour.”  In light of the tropical humidity in the Conservatory, Evie had stripped off her heavy outer coat and scarf and draped them over one arm of the bench, but she quickly retrieved them to make room for C.J. to sit.  “Please.”

C.J. obediently sat, and waited patiently while the other woman settled herself back down on the opposite end of the bench.  Some skillful artist had sculpted and lacquered plant bark and leaves into impressive models of various monuments and famous Washington buildings, and placed them around the court in positions that approximated their layout across the city.  C.J. wondered if it was pure coincidence that they were seated only a few paces away from the replica of the Supreme Court. 

“Ms. Cregg,” the Chief Justice began finally.

“C.J.,” C.J. insisted. 

“C.J., then,” said Evie, shooting a flash of a smile in C.J.’s direction.  “I hope it’s not too tall an order to request that you keep all of this between the two of us, and away from any members of the press who I’m sure would kill to get their hands on a scoop like this?”

“Of course, Your Honor,” said C.J. warmly.  “I can’t speak with absolute certainty for anyone else, but I suspect that all of my colleagues from the West Wing would count your confirmation as one of the best and most lasting things that the Bartlet Administration accomplished.  We’re very proud of the work that you’ve done for our country, and I for one wouldn’t want to do anything that might imperil your position.”

“Thank you,” said Evie quietly, bowing her head slightly.

“So, what can I do to help you?”

Evie sighed. 

“I think I may have made an extremely stupid mistake today.”

“Which was...?" 

“I told Justice Mulready.  Shouted it at him, really.  We were arguing his hypothetical, and I... I don’t know what happened.  I snapped.  I thought I had enough discipline not to do that, but it hit me in a way that I didn’t expect, that hypothetical.  Not too surprising that I took it so personally, I suppose.”

Evie leaned back against the bench and shut her eyes.  A family of tourists made their way across the other end of the hall, noisily enough that C.J. quickly assessed that they hadn’t even noticed the presence of anyone else in the court, let alone overheard anything.

“And I gather he didn’t take it too well?” she hazarded.

“No,” said Evie shortly.  “That, he didn’t.  He said he thought that the American people deserved to know.” 

“So... you’re afraid that he’ll leak something to the press?”  C.J. frowned.  “If you’ll forgive me, that doesn’t seem at all like Justice Mulready’s style.”

“I wouldn’t think so, either, except that, in all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him lose his composure so completely as he did today.  It scared me a bit, frankly.  I thought I knew him so well, and now I don’t know if I can predict what he will or won’t do.  He believes to his core that what I did was wrong, and he’s a man of extraordinarily strong convictions.  It’s one of the things that I admire most about him, ironically.”

C.J. folded and unfolded her hands. 

“Would you mind telling me what he did or said?”

“It’s not important,” Evie sighed.  “What’s important is that Justice Mulready no longer sees me as the person he thought I was, and is impulsively lashing out against the new and diminished Evie Lang.  It’s not something I would expect of him, but if managing a criminal docket taught me anything, it’s that people react in completely uncharacteristic and irrational ways when they feel deeply that they’ve been betrayed by those they trust.” 

“I can understand that,” muttered C.J. to herself.

“I don’t think he’d tell the press himself, mind you,” Evie added.  “I more worry that he might let something slip to one of his clerks, and regret it later.”

“Well, let’s say that worst comes to worst, and something does find its way to the press.”

“No doubt the House would impeach me...”

“They can’t do that,” C.J. argued forcefully.  “You haven’t broken the law.  Unless... did anyone ever ask you during your confirmation process?”

“No.  Perjury isn’t an issue, either.”

“So they couldn't legitimately unseat you; it would be a dead end for them.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t try, nor that it wouldn’t have a tremendously harmful effect, regardless." 

“Ah.”  C.J. could already envision the endless months of angry protests on the steps of the Supreme Court, calling for the removal of the Chief Justice, calling for her imprisonment, and so forth.

“The Court only functions as well as it does because we are seen as non-political,” Evie explained.  “And of course all of us are shaped by our experiences and our perspectives, but still we try our best to apply the law as faithfully as we feel we can, regardless of what we might wish it to say.  To have a highly controversial issue like this be brought into the spotlight, and to have it become politicized through Congressional involvement, would seriously damage the credibility of the Court as an impartial arbiter of justice.  Who knows how long it would take to rebuild the trust that we currently hold with the American public?  I don’t want to be the one responsible for that kind of a blow to our entire institution, C.J.  I don’t want to imperil the standing of my colleagues, and I don’t want public furor over a pseudo-scandal to be the legacy of the Lang Court.  So, what do I do to prepare myself for the worst?”

For a moment, the only sounds audible in the court were the rush and trickle of the fountain.

“If you’ll forgive my rudeness, why did you want to talk to me?” C.J. asked finally.  “If the story does break, can’t the in-house communications at the Court help you ride out the storm?”

“Of course they could, but none of them has ever had to manage anything quite like this would be.  By contrast, you helped craft a public message that not only helped a President survive the public revelation of his MS, but also allowed him to win re-election, and handled who knows how many other daily disturbances faced by the White House so well that none even come to mind right now.  I’d say that you have far greater experience in the realm of crisis management than any of our folks.”  Evie shifted slightly on the bench.  “Plus, there’s the issue of privacy.  I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know, whereas asking our team to prepare pre-emptively for any theoretical strikes could only fuel more rumors.”

“I hope you realize that most of our crisis management was done on the fly,” C.J. pointed out.  “Which isn’t to say that I don’t want to help you however I can, only that there’s probably going to be a bit more improv than you may have anticipated.  Have you thought at all about a potential line of response?”

“It was legal,” said Evie simply.  “Roe built on the right to privacy established by Griswold, and in spite of every case that has chipped away at the periphery of Roe, that central right to privacy still stands, even today.”

“With all due respect, Your Honor, the vast majority of Americans aren’t going to react positively to an impromptu constitutional interpretation class,” C.J. interrupted.  “Conservative media outlets will push the narrative that you willfully murdered your own child...”

“Good god,” scoffed Evie.  “A fetus in the first trimester is not a person, by any established legal or medical definition.”

“I know, Madam Chief Justice, but we need to craft our own narrative to counter what they’ll be saying about you.  And it has to be something relatable, something that people can understand even if they’ve never cracked open a copy of the Constitution.  Were there any extenuating circumstances, if I may ask directly?”

“You mean, rape, incest, fetal deformity, or possible harm to the mother if the fetus were carried to term?”  Evie shook her head.  “Sorry to disappoint you.”

“And you didn’t consider raising the child, or adoption?” C.J. asked carefully.

“It was my right...” Evie began fiercely.

“I’m not judging you, Your Honor,” said C.J. placatingly.  “I promise.  I just want you to have an answer ready, in case you’re ever asked.  Preferably one that doesn’t hinge on rights.”

“Well, then, no,” said Evie curtly.

C.J. waited patiently.

“It was my right,” Evie repeated.  “And I know you’re younger than I am, but I’m sure even you can remember what life was like, when you were starting out as a young woman in a male-dominated profession, and it seemed like everyone was looking for some excuse not to give you credit for the work that you did, or not to give you work at all.  I was warned by a lot of female lawyers while in law school that even getting pregnant, let alone becoming a single mother, could bring my career to a halt, if I hadn’t established myself yet.  And that wasn’t a sacrifice that I was willing to make.”

“OK, fear of professional retaliation,” said C.J.  “Accompanied, of course, by the fact that you probably wouldn’t be where you are now, if you had carried to term." 

“My goodness, no,” Evie agreed.  “It was the right choice for me at that time.  I certainly haven’t lost any sleep over it.”

“Let’s just stick to ‘It was the right choice for me at that time.’  That seems to be the central message, combined with the fact that your opportunities would have been severely narrowed if you had had to live with the social stigmata of pregnancy and/or single motherhood.  The latter will resonate well with women my age or older, at least.”  C.J. sighed.  “I’ll work on it.  I won’t put anything down on paper unless we need to, but I’ll keep thinking about the best way to present this.  And I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you won’t need to do anything.”

“Thank you again,” said Evie.

“One more thing,” added C.J.  “Is there any way to guarantee your personal safety, if things turn really nasty?  Do you Justices have adequate personal security details...?”

“I should be fine.”

C.J. raised an eyebrow.

“You’re sure?”

“Positive,” replied Evie confidently.  Her voice grew serious.  “Look, I get the random bit of hate mail for this or that opinion, as it is.  And goodness knows I’m infinitely better-protected now than I was when I handed down Drori.  I could have filled an Olympic-sized swimming pool with the pages and pages of death threats that I received in the weeks following, and if anyone had tried to do any of the things that they proposed, I would have been a laughably exposed target.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Your Honor,” shuddered C.J.

“My point is that I’ve been through it all before, and I know that I can withstand it.  Frankly, it’d be infinitely easier this time, with my husband passed on and my son grown up.  I’d only need to worry about my own safety.”

“Well, if you feel confident, then I won’t argue the issue any longer.”  C.J. stood and rummaged in her purse.  “I hope that I don’t need to get in touch with you further about this, but if I do...”

“You have my cell phone number already.  My personal cell phone, not Court-issued.”

“I’ll reach out the instant I pick up anything from the press.  We’ll get through this, whatever happens.” 

C.J. held out a business card, and Evie rose to her feet to take it.

“You know, it sometimes startles me to remember that the Bartlet Administration ended over a decade ago,” remarked the Chief Justice unexpectedly.  “Not that I have anything at all against the subsequent administrations.  But sometimes I look up at the television during a White House press conference and am caught off-guard to see someone other than you up there.”

“I’m told I’m a pretty memorable presence, although that could just be the height advantage of being six feet tall in flats.”

“Indubitably.  But I’ll go out on a limb and say that it was probably also because you were the first woman to be the public face of the executive branch.  Whether or not I realized it at the time, it really increased my confidence that the White House would be able to recognize and respond to issues that impacted me and so many other women across the nation, knowing that you were in the Oval Office and holding your own against all the boys.  And yes,” Evie added, “I know that the boys went about business with nothing but the best of intentions.  But even though Toby Ziegler can write a showstopper of a speech, and Josh Lyman has never hesitated to fiercely defend his principles on live television, I think you understand why I reached out to you instead on this issue.”

C.J. nodded.

“Good luck, Madam Chief Justice.”

Evie smiled.

“Thank you again, C.J.  I hope that we meet again, under less nerve-wracking circumstances.”

The moon had risen, slender and radiant and surprisingly large on the horizon, and it lingered in the patch of sky framed by the dense brocade curtains of Evie’s window.  Her clerks had already left — she always shooed them out of her chambers at 6:00 p.m., unless some pressing need arose — and the adagio movement of a piano sonata tinkled quietly from the Chief Justice’s computer speakers, next to where she was proof-reading a draft opinion by the ochre glow of an old desk lamp.  Anyone who knew Evie Lang knew that, as much as she loved a meaningful chat with a friend or colleague, the introvert in her also needed these quiet moments, alone in her darkened chambers except for Beethoven and the moonlight and her work.

The door to Evie’s office was ajar, but when she heard someone moving slowly through the dimly lit outer rooms of her chambers, she assumed it was one of her clerks, coming back for a forgotten item.  She flipped a page of the draft opinion, pushed her glasses a little further up her nose, and paid no real attention to the figure that had just appeared silhouetted in the entrance of the room.

“You know, my mother used to always tell me that I’d ruin my eyesight if I read too much in dim lighting,” remarked Chris Mulready, hovering just behind the threshold.

Evie glanced up, involuntarily tensing.

“So did mine, but she never realized that law school would do my eyesight in first,” she responded.

Chris tentatively stepped into the office, put one hand on the light switch, and looked back at Evie for permission.

“Oh, don’t,” sighed Evie, sitting back and rubbing the tension out of her brow with one hand.  “It’s not worth it.  Waste of electricity.  Plus, you know that pure fluorescent gives me a headache after too long.”

“Is that it?”  Chris crossed the room in a few efficient strides and sank into the leather-upholstered chair in front of Evie’s desk, folding his hands on his knees.  “I assumed that you just hadn’t noticed that it had gotten dark.  Or that you were feeling too lazy to walk the, what, fifteen paces around your desk to the light switch?”

“Not at all,” Evie shot back.  “Really it’s just that I enjoy the chiaroscuro effect.  Don’t you think that a Dutch Masters-inspired palette would work well for my official portrait?”

“I’d expect you to go for something more modern.  Matisse.  Warhol.  Pollock.”

Evie snorted, in spite of herself.

“Fauvism’s about where I draw the line on portraiture, and I’d probably go for something more old school, anyway.  Gilbert Stuart.  That sort of thing.”

“Well,” said Chris, “if you manage to resurrect him from the dead, I hope I’ll be the first to know.”

The dramatic lighting from the lamp accentuated the creases and hollows on Chris’s face even more than usual and played off the sheen of his forehead, where his hairline had receded in recent years.  He had always been a slender man, but age had made him somewhat gaunt, and at moments like this, he looked positively fragile.  Evie was certain that the shadows were bringing out her own wrinkles equally strongly, as well the prominent streaks of silver in her hair, and she wondered if he was taking equally careful note of her own appearance.

“Look,” Chris sighed finally, looking down at his hands and flexing his fingers, “what I said to you earlier...”

His voice trailed off, and he glanced pleadingly at Evie.

“I’m not going to pretend it didn’t hurt,” she replied.  “You know how much I enjoy it when you challenge my ideas, even outright assault them; but petty ad hominem attacks are beneath you, Chris.”

“I know.  I wish I could take back what I said.”

“Can I interpret that as an apology?" 

“If you’d like.”

“For the sentiment, too, not just for the phrasing.”  Evie frowned at him.  “Don’t try to equivocate your way out of this.  I know you too well for you to be able to get away with that sort of tactic." 

“Oh, for god’s sake, Evie.  Yes, I’m sorry that I... that I accused you of not being a good person.  You know that I don’t think that.”

“Well, you could have fooled me.”

“Stop it.  I was angry and confused, and you can’t tell me that you’ve never said equally stupid things in similar situations.”

“No, I can’t,” Evie agreed.  “But it did shake me pretty profoundly to hear you say something like that.  We’ve disagreed on so many things, and yet this is the first time I’ve ever heard you say anything that was downright malicious.  I spent a good part of my afternoon trying to decide if you really are the person I had thought you were.”

“The feeling’s mutual.”

Evie frowned at him for a moment.

“You’ve known my position on abortion for years, Chris.”

“And I should therefore applaud your lack of hypocrisy?”  Chris shook his head.  “I don’t think you’re a bad person, Evie.  I really don’t.  But that doesn’t mean that I can condone what you’ve done.  I think it’s unforgivably wrong.”

“Then we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

Chris scowled.

“Would you at least explain to me why?  Did you have a good reason?”

Evie regarded him pensively.

“Not by your definition, no.”

Chris raised an eyebrow.


“Chris, it just was the right decision for me, at that time,” Evie sighed.  “And that’s all you’re going to get from me, because it really isn’t any of your business.”

“Of course it’s my business!”

“Because I’m your boss?” asked Evie skeptically.

“I was going to say ‘friend’ or ‘colleague,’ but yes, something like that.  Was he married?  Is that why?”

“Oh my god,” muttered Evie to herself.  “No, he wasn’t, and again, it’s absolutely none of your business.”

Chris crossed his arms.

“I just want to understand,” he huffed.  “Cut me just a little slack — I’m dealing with some pretty severe cognitive dissonance here.  You talk about your son with such pride and affection that it’s hard for me to imagine that you wouldn’t want a child.”

Evie willed herself to keep her temper.

“I had my son under very different circumstances,” she explained calmly.  “I was married and an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and I knew what I wanted to do with my life.  I had far more support than I did when I was in law school, and I had established myself well enough that I wasn’t afraid of the impact that having a child would have on my career.  And as brilliant and thoughtful as you are, Chris, I know that that’s a concern that would never have crossed your mind as you made your way up to the appellate level.”

Chris’s frown deepened.

“Title VII...”

“Only matters when it’s enforced, and you know the historical record as well as I do, on that count.”

“You still had legal recourse, though. It wasn’t your only option.”

An answer that preferably doesn’t hinge on rights, Evie reminded herself, and she took a deep breath.

“I don’t know how much any of what I’m about to say will mean to you,” she began, “but I still want you to at least listen.  Title VII has made a difference, and so has women’s lib; but that doesn’t mean that pregnancy and motherhood weren’t still major obstacles to building a career in the 1970s.  I can only imagine how most of my classmates and professors would have looked down their noses at me for getting pregnant out of wedlock in the first place; there’s definitely a world in which facing unrelenting scorn for months on end would have made me drop out of law school altogether.  And then I interned at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice the summer after my 2L year, which is where I made the connections that got me my first job out of law school.  Do you think they would have taken me on if I had been seven months pregnant at the time?  And I can’t think of a single government agency or major law firm that would have even looked at hiring me after law school, if I had kept the child and applied for jobs as a single mother with an infant less than a year old.  Yes, in theory I could have sued all of them under Title VII, but even if the ACLU or some other group had picked up the costs, it would have been difficult to make it in a legal career, with my name on a series of court cases like that.  It’s very difficult to imagine that I would be where I am now, if I hadn’t done what I did.”

“So the ends justify the means for you?” Chris asked.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make, Chris.  I can promise you, it’s not something that any woman ever wants to be in a position to decide.  But I made a choice, and I have always believed that it was the right choice for me, and I don’t know what more I can really say about the matter.”  Evie shook her head.  “I know you think it was wrong of me not to announce all of this when I was nominated, and there’s nothing that I can do if you decide to go ahead and tell people now.  But I’m going to ask you not to do so, for the sake of the Court.  Even if you think that I deserve to be publicly scrutinized, this sort of thing would only draw a lot of negative attention to the institution, and it would be an exercise in futility, since there’s no way that the House could legitimately remove me from office...”

“You really think I would leak something like this, in the hopes that you’d be impeached?” Chris interrupted, incredulous.

“How else am I supposed to interpret your parting shot from this afternoon?” Evie replied defensively.

A scoff of gentle scorn escaped from Chris, and he rolled his eyes to the shadowy ceiling.

“Evie, I’ve already told you that I, like everyone else, sometimes say stupid things that I don’t mean to say.  And fine, maybe I meant what I said, in the moment,” he confessed, “but by the time I’d shut myself back in my office and blown off some steam, I realized that absolutely no good could come of my saying anything publicly.”

Evie blinked.

“And you didn’t say anything to your clerks, or to anyone else...?”


Evie exhaled a slow sigh of relief. 

“Thank you,” she said.  “As the Chief Justice of this Court, thank you.”

“Oh, stop it, Evie.”  The corners of Chris’s mouth twitched upwards.  “Yes, I care an incredible amount about the Court and how it’s perceived, but you know perfectly well that I also care an incredible amount about you.  It’s silly of you to pretend that I don’t, however much my opinions may make you want to slug me, from time to time.”

“I’m not going to argue with that,” muttered Evie.

“The truth is, I honestly can’t imagine being on this bench without you,” admitted Chris, leaning back in his chair.  “You’ve been such an important part of this whole experience for me, from that extremely bizarre meeting in the White House onwards.  You keep me on my toes; no one can push back against my arguments like you do.  And you’re a wonderful friend, even when I think your ideas are balderdash and you think the same about mine.  I wouldn’t have any fun if you weren’t here, too.”

Finally — finally — Evie ventured a hesitant smile.  And, for the first time since that afternoon, some internal knot of anxiety that had been tightening inside of Chris eased and loosened just a bit.  If he could still make Evie Lang smile, even after a day as trying as this one had been, then things were still mostly right in the world.

“Liar,” said Evie.  “You can’t tell me that you don’t sometimes fantasize about having a solid conservative majority on the Court that would respond to your every beck and call.”

“I could get that majority with you still on the Court, though,” Chris pointed out.

“Who says I’d stick around?” Evie challenged him.

“Says the woman who can be found in her chambers long after all of her clerks have left,” retorted Chris.  “If adjudication were an addictive substance, I’d stage an intervention.”

“You’d be in rehab with me,” Evie countered.

“Fair,” Chris conceded.  “You’re quite an enabler.”

“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.”

“Incredibly enough, it is.”

“You wouldn’t leave the Court just because I wasn’t on it,” Evie insisted.  “It would be stupid and, frankly, irresponsible to leave the institution in the lurch, just because you’d lost your intellectual counterweight.  What if I died in a freak accident tomorrow?  If you quit on my account, I’d be very disappointed in you, from beyond the grave.”

“Don’t even joke that way,” shuddered Chris.

“Or from my deathbed,” Evie added.  “‘Jefferson lives,’ and all that.  And you don’t get to pontificate at me on the use of morbid hypotheticals on a day like today, hypocrite lecteur.”  She paused.  “You really think that women who receive abortions...”

“Oh, not this again,” Chris snapped.  “The Fifth Amendment specifically references the right of the state to punish crimes capitally.”

“To punish crimes, which abortion is not.  And in any case, the Eighth Amendment...”

“Here we go,” muttered Chris to himself.

“The Eighth Amendment specifically bans the use of cruel and unusual punishment, which, in this day and age, includes the death penalty.”

“Just because the United Nations says so?” Chris argued in disbelief.

“Just because it’s hypocritical to call ourselves one of the most enlightened and just nations in the world, when we’re one of only a handful of countries to still utilize capital punishment and the last of the western democracies to do so." 

“So we should fold under peer pressure.”

“No, but we should acknowledge that societal norms did not become frozen in perpetuity circa 1791.”

“You are, as always, an irredeemable activist.”

“And you, sir, are a retrograde originalist.”  Evie grinned.  “Are you sure you still want me on your hypothetical Court?”

“I’d say no, but you know that I live for these little arguments of ours, so you wouldn’t believe me if I did,” Chris grumbled, offering her half of a smile in return.

The two sat in silence for a moment, washed in ochre light and shadow.  If she had felt that some invisible thread that stretched between herself and Chris had come loose and unraveled over the course of the day, Evie was relieved that it was now winding itself back into a taut and secure anchor.  Perhaps it had been foolish of her to have worried earlier that maybe Chris did think that she deserved to die; but it put her mind at ease to be told in no uncertain terms that he very much wanted her alive, after all.  She reached across her desk and laid her hand over his, and after a moment he covered hers with his other hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze before letting go.

“I was more thinking along the lines of retirement, by the way,” Chris clarified.  “We came onto the Court together, so it would only be fitting for us to leave it together.  The White House could do another — what did Toby Ziegler call it? — ‘swap-a-dee-doo,’ since no one can now claim that such a maneuver is unprecedented.  And, might I add, I believe that the exact quote you were looking for is, ‘Thomas Jefferson still survives.’”

Evie laughed, and the sound was music to Chris’s ears.

“I’d call you an incurable nerd, but that would be throwing stones in the biggest glass house of them all,” she said.  “Is it too late to make it to the Kennedy Center before eight?”

“I don’t think so, no.”  Chris stood.  “Do you need time to change?”

“Oh, I suppose so.  Pity that things like this call for something fancier than business attire.  Let me finish reading this section, and I’ll come knock on your door in a few, once I’m ready?”

“Sure.”  Chris made his way to the door, then stopped.  “Evie?”

“Hmm?” she responded, looking back up from the draft.

For the second time that day, Chris quite suddenly found himself unable to express himself adequately using the English language.  A flurry of thoughts raced through his mind in rapid succession, but none of them seemed to quite hit the mark, and, as a lover of precision in speech, he therefore couldn’t bring himself to say anything.  Instead, he simply nodded and left the softly lit office, knowing that Evie would understand what he meant, nonetheless.

Can’t make it tonight — J’s toe fractured.  Please pass our apologies to POTUS.  J denies he owes you two coffees (I think he’s wrong).  Looking forward to hearing more about EBL!

C.J. shook her head in amusement as she stuffed her phone back into her clutch and clambered out of her Uber to join the flood of elegantly attired D.C. notables entering the sparkling halls of the Kennedy Center.  She made her way along the red carpet of the Hall of States, scanning the crowds for familiar faces, until she felt someone tap her arm.

“Hey,” said Toby Ziegler, smiling almost shyly at her.

“Hey, yourself,” replied C.J., her face breaking into a grin.  “I didn’t know if you’d make it.”

Toby shrugged.

“Andy’s out of town, and Molly had a basketball game this afternoon, so I was in D.C., anyway.”

“Columbia still treating you nicely?”

“It’s New York.  No one ever gets treated nicely in New York.”

“I’ve missed you,” said C.J. sincerely.

“Same,” replied Toby.  “He’s over here, by the way.”

C.J. followed Toby into the grand foyer to where a small throng of people was being closely monitored by two Secret Service agents.

“So I told him that the Fed’s use of quantitative easing during the recession had, in fact, curbed inflation to the extent that... hang on just a moment.”

C.J.’s grin widened as Josiah Bartlet, grayer than ever but still looking every inch a President, disentangled himself from the midst of some lecture or another, and spread his arms, beaming. 

“Claudia Jean,” he declared, embracing C.J.  “Good of you to join us tonight." 

“Couldn’t disappoint you, sir,” she replied.  “And thank you for the invitation.”

“Don’t thank me,” said Jed, waving his hand at her, “thank Yo-Yo Ma.  He’s the one who specifically asked if I wanted to reserve a box for any other former members of my administration who wanted to attend.”

“Well, thank you, Yo-Yo Ma,” muttered Toby quietly behind C.J.’s back.

“Is that C.J.?”  Abigail Bartlet appeared at her husband’s side and, by trained instinct, put a supportive hand under his elbow.

“Mrs. Bartlet,” replied C.J.

“Oh, please, Abbey’s fine,” the former First Lady corrected her.  “It’s good to see you.  Both of you,” she added, nodding to Toby.

“Charlie’s not here?” C.J. asked, glancing around. 

“He and Zoey are in Denmark right now,” explained Jed, trying to sound annoyed and failing.  “Lord knows why, but they are.  Let’s hope they’re not freezing to death.”

“Though, if they are, I’ve already told them that I expect to get an in-depth description of the Danish healthcare system, as soon as they’ve thawed enough to come back to the States,” Abbey added.

“And you invited Debbie?”

“I did, and she said thank you and curtly informed me that she’d rather watch events unfold at a close-up proximity on her TV,” said Jed, shaking his head.  “So I believe that makes Josh and Donna the two remaining truants of our merry crew.”

“They can’t make it,” C.J. explained quickly.  “Medical emergency.”

“Nothing serious, I hope?” said Abbey, raising an eyebrow.

“A minor fracture.  Josh took some feelings out on his office furniture earlier today, and shouldn’t put his full weight on one foot right now, as a result.”

Toby quickly turned a laugh into a small cough.

“Ah, well, some things never change,” said Jed, sounding for all the world like an overly indulgent father.

You can’t laugh,” C.J. muttered to Toby as Jed turned away to enthusiastically greet several more people, Abbey smiling graciously beside him.  “Didn’t you once shatter a window of your office in the West Wing with a rubber ball?”

“No, Will Bailey once shattered the window of my office in the West Wing with my rubber ball,” Toby grumbled.  “What got Josh so riled up?" 

“Supreme Court oral arguments this morning.  Did you follow the news?”

“Yeah,” said Toby.  “Remind me again why we elevated that imbecile to the highest court in the land?”

“Because he charmed the President more effectively than he charmed you?”

“I blame Josh,” sighed Toby.

“I wouldn’t tell Josh that.  I don't think that Brookings can afford to spend its entire budget on new wastepaper baskets.”

“I’m serious,” Toby scowled.  “Without his moronic schemes, we could have gone with Shelton and called it a day.  We could have had a thoroughly boring and completely reliable Court, rather than this bipolar disaster of a bench orchestrated by Christopher ‘Let’s Return to the Good Old Days of Burning Alleged Witches at the Stake’ Mulready.”

At precisely this moment, something caught Jed’s attention, and, smiling and throwing a hand up in greeting, the former President made his way towards the large, abstracted bronze sculpture of John F. Kennedy’s head that dominated the grand foyer of the namesake performing arts center.

“Speak of the devil,” muttered Toby, watching Jed’s progress, for there at the base of the statue stood Justices Lang and Mulready, accompanied by a woman whom C.J. vaguely recognized as Justice Mulready’s wife.

“Justice Mulready, Mrs. Mulready, Chief Justice Lang,” Jed was saying when C.J. and Toby caught up with him.  “So good to see you out of your robes and enjoying a night on the town.”

“And the same to you, Mr. President,” the Chief Justice replied, shaking his hand.  “Welcome back to Washington.”

“You remember my wife, Abbey,” Jed said, gesturing Abbey forward to be introduced (C.J. willed herself not to laugh at the extremely forced smile that Abbey offered Mulready as she shook his hand).  “And Toby Ziegler.”

“How could we forget Mr. Ziegler?” said Justice Mulready graciously.  Toby nodded neutrally and, to C.J.’s relief, somehow managed to leave the interaction at that.

“And C.J. Cregg,” Jed concluded.  “I think you may have interacted briefly during the formal announcement of your nominations?”

“Very briefly,” said C.J., shaking Evie Lang’s hand.  “It’s good to see you again, Madam Chief Justice.”

“Yes,” agreed Evie, “and thankfully under much more relaxed circumstances than the last time we met.”

C.J.’s hand lingered in Evie’s for a second too long as she absorbed the meaning behind the Chief Justice’s statement, and she quickly turned to acknowledge Justice Mulready.

“Nice to meet you, as well, Mrs. Mulready,” C.J. added as she held out a hand.

“Oh, the pleasure’s mine,” insisted Mrs. Mulready, shaking C.J.’s hand carefully.  “I remember watching you on TV, back in the day.”

“Have you been to the Kennedy Center Honors before?” C.J. asked politely.

“Once or twice.  The pageantry is always fun to see in person, but I feel like a fish out of water, to be honest.  Chris has really learned to enjoy to the attention he receives as a bona fide D.C. celebrity, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it."

“It’s a lot to handle,” said C.J. sympathetically, reasoning that at least she herself had been the one to sign up for a life of instant recognition.

“It is, and Chris knows that, on some level.  He really appreciates it when I agree to come to these things because he knows how stressful I find it, but it’s still hard for him to understand that I’m just a much more private person than he is." 

“Well, I hope you enjoy tonight, in spite of the swarms of fans.”

“I will, I’m sure.”  Mrs. Mulready sighed.  “Thank goodness for Evie, that’s all I can say.  She’s always more than happy to accompany Chris to the theater or the opera, whenever I decide that I want to spend a paparazzi-free evening reading a book in the quiet of my own home.”

The two women reflectively watched as the two Justices laughed in tandem at some quip that Jed had made, communicating silently with each other through quick, familiar glances as they responded in turns to the man who had nominated them to their current positions of power.

“People must be surprised at what close friends they are, off the bench,” C.J. remarked.

“On the bench, too,” corrected Mrs. Mulready.  “And anyone who’s surprised clearly doesn’t know Chris or Evie all that well.  They’re both absolute suckers for people with high levels of intelligence and equally high levels of respect for civil discourse.  Can’t get enough of each other’s ideas, even if what they’re most eager to do is to poke holes in each other’s arguments until one of them runs out of argument to punch.  Evie’s always good about trying to veer the conversation away from legal doctrine, whenever we’re out at dinner; I think she realizes that I feel a little like an awkward third wheel when they launch into some complex discussion of jurisprudence.” 

“Since you’ve brought up originalism, Mr. President, maybe you can weigh in on a debate that Justice Mulready and I have been waging all afternoon,” Evie was saying to Jed simultaneously.  “Which do you think is the more important fundamental right that the Founders put forward for us: life or liberty?”

“No pressure,” added Chris.

“In what context?” asked Toby, scowling back at him.

“No context, either.” 

“Do I not also get ‘the pursuit of happiness’ as an option?” Jed asked.

“Sir, life and liberty are both enumerated rights, guaranteed by both the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments,” Toby pointed out.  “The pursuit of happiness is, is a rhetorical flourish, used in the Declaration of Independence but not in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.”

“If Justice Mulready can make use of an auxiliary source like The Federalist Papers to try to decipher James Madison’s original intent in drafting the Constitution, then President Bartlet should have the right to consider language from an equally revelatory founding document like the Declaration of Independence,” Evie reasoned.  “Shouldn’t he, Chris?”

“I wouldn’t say that the Declaration has quite the stature of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, or even The Federalist,” Chris rebutted, “given that it was drafted as a statement of political dissent against the United Kingdom, and not as a conscious blueprint for the foundation of a then-nonexistent American government.”

“Comparative stature of the Declaration to the Constitution aside, why the pursuit of happiness, over life or liberty?” Evie asked, ignoring her colleague.

Jed shrugged.

“First of all, I don’t agree with Justice Mulready that our Constitution is the end-all, be-all of American jurisprudential thought.  It’s really more of a departure point for a host of issues that the Founders knew they could never have imagined, and its very flexibility and openness to interpretation speak to this fact.  You don’t believe me, you can go read the quotes on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial, which prove that the ‘living tree’ doctrine had at least one firm advocate amongst the nation's original legal interpreters.”

“You should probably leave the Canadian Constitution out of this, sir,” muttered Toby behind Jed’s back.

C.J. noticed Evie Lang (clearly amused) discreetly nudge Chris Mulready’s arm with her elbow, and suspected that Toby’s comment spoke to a thousand arguments that they had had about the doctrine in question, as well as about the applicability of foreign constitutional interpretation to American law.

“Yeah, you’re right, Toby.”  Jed sighed.  “Why the pursuit of happiness, you asked?  Well, isn’t that the end that the other two rights try to accomplish?  Who would find life worthwhile, if living meant existing in a state of unending misery?  And what would be the use of liberty, if our free actions and choices couldn’t be used to try to achieve some small measure of joy?”

“Respectfully, Mr. President, you’re not a constitutional scholar,” chuckled Chris.

“No, I’m an economist,” agreed Jed.  “But I’ve traveled around this country, talking to folks who’ve had it rough, and I’ve traveled to nations around the globe to speak to citizens who are suffering under oppressive foreign regimes.  And if I’ve learned anything from the experience of acting as President of these United States, it’s that a person living in one of the freest countries on earth can be just as wretched as a person living under the most restrictive and authoritarian conditions.  It’s often easier, of course, for the American to find a remedy for the source of his misery, be that a job or a loan or a hot meal or a supportive community.  But that doesn’t mean that he’s not equally unhappy, until he does.”

“Perhaps not the most convincing legal argument,” Evie conceded, “but an intriguing philosophical one, nonetheless.”

“Excuse me,” C.J. muttered as she stepped away from the group and fished her buzzing cell phone from her purse.  “Hello?”

“C.J.?”  It was Josh.  “Ah, look, I’ve done something stupid to my foot, and I can’t make it to the thing tonight...”

“I know, Donna texted me 20 minutes ago.”  C.J. glanced back over her shoulder as she walked along the large plate glass windows between the grand foyer and the willow-lined terrace that looked out over the Potomac.  “Wish you could be here, Josh — we were just talking to your girlfriend.”

“My... girlfriend?” 

“The Chief Justice,” C.J. clarified with a smirk.

Josh inhaled slowly.

“Evie Lang,” he said dreamily.  “How is she?”

“Cross-examining the President on the comparative values of various unalienable rights, at present.”

“Of course she is,” sighed Josh.  “God.  What a woman.  Jurist, I mean.”

“Hang on,” said C.J. into the phone as she watched Toby draw nearer and nearer in the reflection off the window.  “It’s Josh,” she told Toby as she turned around and held out her phone to him. 

Toby accepted the phone tentatively and cleared his throat as he held it to his ear. 

“Hey, Josh." 

“Toby?”  Josh could barely contain a chuckle of delight.  “Damn it, I can’t believe both you and Evie Lang are there tonight!”

“I’d say our combined presence has truly made this a star-studded evening not to be missed,” said Toby drily.

“C.J. said she was being brilliant, as always.”

“Yeah.”  Toby glanced back at the Justices.  “Her shoes are pretty noteworthy, too, in case you were wondering.” 

“I’m not going to ask,” C.J. responded to Toby’s end of the conversation. 

“How have you been?” Josh asked, his smile practically visible in his voice.  “New York still good?”

“Yeah.”  Toby glanced at C.J., who gestured that he was free to keep the phone for as long as he needed, then wandered back towards the President just as an arpeggio of bells sounded overhead to indicate that the ceremony would be starting soon.

“What’d I miss?” she asked Jed.

“Oh, just some polite disagreement over the most reliable deconstruction of Thomas Jefferson’s thought processes,” replied Jed.  “Needless to say, the conversation ended in a stalemate.  I’ve gotta say, I’m glad that I know what a nice guy Chris Mulready is, in person — otherwise, I’d really hate the genius who put him on the Supreme Court.”

C.J. smiled obligingly.

“Sir, do you ever question if we did the right thing?” she asked after a moment.

Jed furrowed his brow. 

“No,” he replied simply.  “I’ve lost sleep over many decisions that I made during my time in office, C.J., but never on this.”

“Even on Justice Mulready’s worst days?  Or, his best days, I should say.”

“You know why I put Christopher Mulready on the Court?” Jed asked.  “It’s because he wasn’t afraid to lose the debate.  He wasn’t afraid to write the extraordinary dissent.  Our nation is all about checks and balances, C.J. — we’re a functional democracy because everyone accepts that no one party or ideology can hold absolute sway over the national dialogue.  Sure, I’ve hated some of the things that Mulready’s written, and I knew that I would from the moment we put him on the Court.  But that doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t write them.  That doesn’t mean that our country isn’t better for his having written them.  I still believe that, in the marketplace of ideas, the best will ultimately rise to the top, which means that if Justice Lang is also out there, writing extraordinary dissents that meet or exceed the intellectual standards of every majority opinion that Justice Mulready writes, all may yet be well, in the end.”

“I was worried about her, after what he said today,” C.J. admitted.

“Yeah.”  Jed sighed.  “Well, that was a risk we knew we were taking, and so far, no harm done.”

“You think they’ll be all right?” C.J. asked.

She followed Jed’s gaze across the hall.  Justice Mulready, walking arm in arm with his wife, was laughing at something that Justice Lang had just said to him, his face turned towards hers and both of their expressions radiant.

“People say that justice is blind, and they say the same thing about love,” Jed mused.  “Does that mean there’s a correlation between the two?”


“Yeah, C.J., I think they’ll be just fine,” Jed answered, “and so will the Court, and so will the country.  Now, stop fretting, grab Toby, and let’s find our box.”

“Yes, Mr. President,” replied C.J., and she gesticulated across the hall to get Toby’s attention and signal to him to wrap up his conversation with Josh.  He nodded back at her, and she fell behind Jed to wait.

As she stood in the rapidly emptying grand foyer, C.J. glanced once more at the Justices (now having their tickets scanned at the entrance of the Opera House) and caught Evie Lang’s eye.  C.J. nodded in acknowledgement, and Evie smiled broadly and returned the nod.

“Everything OK?” asked Toby from behind C.J.

C.J. turned and looked at her former colleague for a long moment.  Perhaps by virtue of having an old soul, Toby didn’t seem to have aged much since their years in the Bartlet Administration together; in fact, although his temples and beard were peppered with white, his eyes seemed less melancholy than they ever had at the West Wing.  Maybe it was the comparative lack of stress, C.J. wondered fleetingly; or maybe it was simply that time had mellowed even the ever-belligerent Tobias Ziegler.  Either way, it was a welcome change.  She took her cell phone back from Toby, then folded his outstretched hand in hers and gave it a firm and affectionate squeeze.  He glanced up at her when she let go, his expression startled but grateful.

“Yeah,” C.J. replied, smiling slowly at Toby.  “Everything’s OK.”