Hundreds of sweating, shoving, yelling, and cheering Americans who gathered to hear the health care verdict outside the Supreme Court on Thursday demonstrated a range of reactions to the decision—as well as the haphazard ways they received the news.
Cell service was spotty, blocking e-mails, tweets, and text messages, and CNN incorrectly reported that the mandate to buy insurance had been struck down. Most were left to gauge the news by the reaction from people in the crowd.
Chris McAuliffe, a public school teacher in Maryland, said he was happy to see the court decide to treat Americans like citizens rather than subjects by striking down the individual mandate, which he wrongly assumed when he saw tea party flags waving.
Moments later, when he learned he may have been misled, he stayed positive. “No matter how they decided, it is still a beautiful and awe-inspiring system,” McAuliffe said.
His 15-year-old son Andrew McAuliffe said it was an educational experience for him. “When it’s my turn to stand up here and stand for what I believe in, I want to know what I’m talking about and how it works,” he said.
Next to McAuliffe, a former Marine was trying unsuccessfully to load the Drudge Report on his phone. Keldon McFarland, 31, carried a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and wore a patriotically colored teapot pin. McFarland said it was his first time attending a tea party rally, but that he had long been a believer in individual liberty and freedom. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and said he voted for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., while on duty during the 2008 presidential election.
“I did not serve in the military to protect health care,” McFarland said. “I fought to protect the Constitution.”
Stephen Spitz jumped with excitement when he heard the news that the Court had upheld most parts of the controversial health law. He held a sign reading “Medicare for All,” and said he is in favor of the bill’s provision to expand Medicare—though he doesn’t think it goes far enough. His wife, who is 60, was self-employed when she was diagnosed with cancer. She is still battling cancer, and Spitz thinks Medicare should cover her treatment.
One woman celebrating the decision did not hold a flag or a banner but a 6-foot painted canvas. Theresa BrownGold held her painting of faceless patients lined up at 3 a.m. to receive free health care at a fairgrounds in Nashville—a scene she witnessed firsthand. She said she chose the painting out of many she’s done to symbolize America’s broken health-care system.
“Next to my children being born, and maybe my wedding day, this day is the happiest of my life,” BrownGold said.
BrownGold became interested in the health care debate long before the law passed in 2010. She owns a small restaurant and said she felt compelled but unable to insure her employees. She began researching the issue and used her art to represent some of the stories she heard along the way. One reporter asked BrownGold if she had won on Thursday, and she responded with exasperation.
“I don’t care about gloating, that’s a waste of energy,” BrownGold said. “I care about this, these people.”
Hours later, supporters, opponents, and curious passersby continued to collide in front of the Supreme Court, flashing their cameras, blasting their megaphones, and trying to make sense of the verdict.