A brass band, tea party advocates, and a band of determined line-sitters set the stage as the Supreme Court began its first day of oral arguments on the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Groups supporting the law, such as Families USA, joined forces to present a lineup of doctors, nurses, and patients who highlighted provisions of the law that have proven popular, from a three-time cancer survivor who is struggling to buy her prescription medications to a man whose stepson died of lung failure after failing to get health insurance.
“This is not about politics. It’s about people,” said Dr. Alice Chen, an internal-medicine physician in Los Angeles and the executive director of the advocacy group Doctors for America.
“You should join me in celebrating the progress we’ve made.”
But politics was clearly on the minds of many at the demonstrations. Few ventured a guess as to what the nine justices would ultimately decide but said they wanted their voices heard.
“I’m here to defend our liberty and our Constitution,” said Amy Brighton, a 37-year-old tea party volunteer who had driven to Washington from Medina, Ohio, for this week’s rallies. “I don’t want the government to tell me what to buy. I want those decisions to be made between my doctor and I.”
Dueling protesters faced off, with heated debates occasionally erupting between the two sides. A brass band played “When the Saints Go Marching In” for the pro-health care side, while demonstrators chanted “We love Obamacare.” Protesters against the law answered back, “We love the Constitution.”
Medical groups issued a series of statements praising health reform. “Having access to quality, affordable health insurance is a fundamental human right and not a privilege. The individual mandate is integral to the law. It will ensure millions of currently uninsured Americans have access to health coverage at a time when they need it the most. It will also save lives,” the American Public Health Association, which filed friend-of-the-court briefs, said in a statement.
The mostly Republican opponents of the law did not waver. “No matter what the Supreme Court ultimately decides, I believe the president’s health care takeover represents an unmitigated intrusion into Americans’ fundamental rights and freedom,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in his own retort. “That’s why we must work together to repeal this flawed law and enact common-sense bipartisan solutions that will put patients and doctors in control of their health care--not Washington bureaucrats."
And one group that hasn’t made itself heard much lately also spoke up. The Physicians for a National Health Program pointed out that the law falls far short of providing single-payer, universal health care. “The unfortunate reality is that federal health law of 2010 will not work: 1) It will not achieve universal coverage, as it leaves at least 26 million uninsured; 2) it will not make health care affordable to Americans with insurance, because gaps in their policies will leave them vulnerable to bankruptcy in the event of major illness; and 3) it will not control costs,” the group said in a statement.
Spectators begun lining up as early as Friday to get a chance to hear part of the arguments, and they were given an orderly welcome to the Court. A Supreme Court spokeswoman said that the general public was assigned 120 seats in the courtroom, with 34 more seats reserved for people who were given a quick three-to-five minute glimpse in rotation. Members of the Supreme Court bar got 76 assigned seats, with 117 places reserved for media members. The crowd was packed but quiet and well behaved, National Journal's Margot Sanger-Katz reports.
Those emerging from Monday morning’s proceedings said they were confident that the Supreme Court would move past the technical tax issues being discussed to the larger question of whether or not the individual mandate in the health care law is constitutional.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told reporters that she believed the court would move forward and that all nine justices had “expressed concern” about the mandate. Similarly, Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, a plaintiff in the case, said all parties were eager to get to the meat of the issue.
"Bottom line is that there was healthy skepticism on the part of most, if not all, of the justices on whether or not the Anti Injunction Act warrants challenge at this time," Harned said in a statement. "We feel good about our chances of the court going to the merits of whether or not the individual mandate is constitutional. We’re looking forward to arguments tomorrow.”
“This is an hors d’oeuvre,” agreed Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, characterizing Monday's arguments as “low-key.”
Demonstrators said the court was not necessarily their target. “There are many who feel just as strongly as I do who are not here, but they are going to vote their conscience in November,” said Lisa Miller, a Washington, D.C. Tea Party activist. “I’m here as an act of moral support."