Sorry for my fixation on Tanuro Shel Achnai. The Gemmorah says that at the time of the incident R' Gamliel (the Nassi) was in the high seas (B"M 59b):

ואף ר"ג היה בא בספינה. עמד עליו נחשול לטבעו וכו

And even Rabban Gamliel, the Nasi of the Sanhedrin at Yavne, the head of the Sages was coming on a boat at the time, and a large wave swelled over him, etc

Both Talmuds and Most interpreters understand the Machlokes as אחרי רבים להטות - R"E's refusal of following the majority. However, this rule is only applicable to a valid [high] court.

How an obligating Halacha can be ruled in a court without the Nassi present?

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    I don't understand why you think the nasi must always be present. – Double AA Sep 24 at 19:33
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    הוריות פרק א - משנה ד הוֹרוּ בֵית דִּין, וְיָדַע אֶחָד מֵהֶן שֶׁטָּעוּ, וְאָמַר לָהֶן טוֹעִין אַתֶּם, אוֹ שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה מֻפְלָא שֶׁל בֵּית דִּין שָׁם – Danny Schoemann Sep 25 at 7:26
  • חגיגה ט"ז: אי אמרת רבנן דאמרי יהודה בן טבאי אב ב''ד שמעון בן שטח נשיא אב ב''ד בפני נשיא מי מורה הלכה וכו' ע"ש כך הסוגיא – Danny Schoemann Sep 25 at 7:29
  • @DannySchoemann Do you want to post those sources as an answer? – DonielF Oct 3 at 17:46
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    @Danny Before I delve into it: The sugya in Horayos bears out very clearly (esp. with Rashi) that the מופלא is not actually part of the Sanhedrin, unlike all those others listed in the Mishnah. Is the מופלא actually the אב בית דין? Was the אב בית דין not part of the Sanhedrin itself? – DonielF Oct 6 at 16:29

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