Tea Party Patriots jostled with supporters of the Obama administration’s health care reforms in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the crowds swelling until they spilled over onto the Capitol grounds on the second day of oral arguments about the law.
Excited demonstrators drowned out Rep. Michele Bachmann, R- Minn., as she tried to speak out against the law, even as Supreme Court justices inside talked over one another in their eagerness to determine whether Congress has the right to make people buy health insurance, or anything else.
“The justices must decide if those principles mean something. We believe that the Constitution means something,” Bachmann said.
"We're surrounded right now by those who will benefit from socialism. We're surrounded by those who will benefit from the government telling you what to do,” she added.
“Health care for everyone is a human right,” demonstrators shouted back. “Protect the law. Protect our care.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose state leads one of the lawsuits being decided, said she and the other attorneys general were encouraged by the justices’ comments and confident the law would be struck down. “We feel very comfortable with the questions that were asked,” she said.
“This is a government overreach like nothing we’ve ever seen before in our history,” she added. “If the federal government can do this, they can force us to do anything.”
Among those in the audience to hear the arguments on Tuesday were Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Sens. John Cornyn, R- Texas, and Patrick Leahy, D- Vt.; and Reps. John Dingell, John Conyers, and Sander Levin, all Democrats from Michigan.
Having voted on the health care bill, Congress in theory has no influence over the Court’s decision, but that did not stop lawmakers from weighing in while attention is focused on the issue.
Republican lawmakers said they looked forward to restarting the health care policy debate, particularly over the individual mandate.
“It is an unconstitutional mandate that will make the whole law unconstitutional,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, in an afternoon news conference.
Both sides saw advantage. Leahy and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who is the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chairman, said they were confident the Court would uphold the law. Leahy said striking down the mandate would open the door for declaring entitlements like Social Security and Medicare unconstitutional.
McConnell noted the four liberal justices focused their questions on the plaintiffs, while the other judges focused on the government. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said he was cheered by tough questioning from the Court’s swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy. “The government had a tough day,” Johanns said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said no matter what the ruling, the health care law should be replaced with market-oriented solutions. "'Obamacare' has been a disaster for Americans financially,” Rubio said.
Groups in favor of the health care law pivoted to emphasizing the importance of the legislative branch dictating policy.
“Our Constitution could not be clearer about who has control over our economic policy,” said Ian Milhiser, a lawyer for the left-leaning Center for American Progress who is representing health care providers in favor of the law in the case. “It is our elected officials who get to decide what our economic policy is, not the only branch of government that we don’t get a chance to vote for.”