Anyone who wanted to get one of 60 public spectator tickets to see the first day of oral arguments about the health care law before the Supreme Court had to be in line by Sunday. Determined Court-watchers were ready early.
Number four in line in front of the Supreme Court Sunday evening was Kathie McClure, an attorney from Atlanta, Georgia. When she saw a line was already forming on Friday to get inside to hear arguments about the health reform law, she raced out to Alexandria to pick up a suitcase with provisions and a bright blue folding chair with a foam roof over it to protect against the rain. Thanks to local friends, McClure has since acquired a sleeping bag, a tarp and a scarf and gloves to help her cope with the elements as she awaits oral arguments on a case that means so much to her personally.
(PICTURES: Crowds Gather Outside the Supreme Court)
McClure’s children were both diagnosed with lifelong diseases at the age of 14, her 29-year-old son with type-one diabetes, and her 27-year-old daughter with epilepsy. Though both are now insured through their employers, McClure said the dread she felt as they each left the nest with expensive conditions that could make them uninsurable turned her into an advocate for health care reform. Since, she has founded a non-profit organization, VoteHealthcare.org, and toured the country in a purple bus, working with grassroots organizations to educate the public about reform and, since 2010, the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. “There’s a big gap in the public’s knowledge of the law. … (The Obama administration) should be prouder of the law and its benefits for people,” she says.
McClure, who slept in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk on Saturday night, is frustrated with the court’s decision not to broadcast the hearings on television, forcing those interested in witnessing the arguments for themselves to join her on the concrete, or hire someone to do it for them.
About 50 people were in line late on Sunday, taking care not to appear like they are camping – that’s against the rules. Among them are passionate partisans, tourists and professional line-sitters, lined up like so many blanket-covered dominoes in their folding chairs and on cots. But through the rainy and sometimes cold weekend, they hold one another’s places in line, relying on local friends to bring supplies and the loan facilities in the United Methodists Building just across the street.
Armed with bottles of water, blankets and tarps, those at the front of line arrived on Friday morning, while the majority staked their claim sometime on Sunday afternoon, many after seeing the line -- which had already spread down First Street and turned down East Capitol by early Sunday evening. On the opposite side of the court, a group of 30 twenty-somethings sit in a circle with a guitar and a set of bongos singing songs about Jesus, and plan to stay there for the next 72 hours -- though they aren’t taking a stand on the law.
One couple, tourists from Orlando, purchased tickets to visit the District months ago -- long before the Court set their docket for the year -- hoping to bring their 18-year-old son, a future law student, to see the nation’s highest court in action, having no idea that that would mean camping out on the sidewalk overnight, wrapped in a pink-and-orange blanket.
The line-sitters, including working poor and the homeless, make up more than two-thirds of the line. Some are professionals, but all have been asked by their employers not to talk to reporters, and never to admit to being paid to sit. Rumor has it they’re being paid between $5 and $13 per hour to endure the elements and leg cramps.
Capitol Police have told them that as many as 60 of them could get into the Court at 9 a.m., but that will depend on how many VIPs and members of the Supreme Court Bar take their own seats. McClure could have joined the Bar herself, but said she wasn’t interested in dropping $200. “I think that’s inconsistent with our democracy when only the elites get in,” she says.