Inside the Supreme Court, it was all quiet and order as 400 spectators pressed in tight to hear the first 90 minutes of oral arguments on Monday morning in the challenge to the 2010 health care law. In the front row were Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R.- Ala., and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Outside the building, it was chaos, with nonstop demonstrations, news conferences, interviews, and generalized grandstanding – even a brass band.
Doctors in lab coats demonstrating in favor of President Obama’s signature domestic initiative gave way to tea partiers equipped with microphones, a small amplifier, and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. They waved signs and sang “Obama, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” and “Don’t kill my grandma/no death panels for me.”
A group of five nurses from the American Nurses Association stood nearby, chanting, “Not a privilege. It’s a right.” But, drowned out by the noisier tea partiers, they quickly disbanded.
Monday’s arguments were deliberately manufactured by the Court—both the challengers to the validity of the health reform law and its government defenders want the Supreme Court to settle the case now. But the Court appointed an outside lawyer, Robert Long of Covington & Burling, to argue that the case cannot be tried yet because the Anti-Injunction Act requires taxpayers to pay a levy first before challenging it.
Most of the justices' questions seemed to signal that they are inclined to rule on the merits of the case and throw out the possibility that the Anti-Injunction Act would require them to wait until 2015.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is leading one of the challenges to the health care law, descended from the steps of the high court around 3 p.m., sending up shouts among the tea party group. He says he is looking forward to hearing arguments on Tuesday. “I jokingly called [today] the ‘boring day,’ ” he said. “Some of the questions today were clearly leading into tomorrow,” he added. “They're getting ready for it."
Maybe one of the most entertaining developments of the weekend and Monday was the White House's embrace of the Republicans’ pejorative term “Obamacare.”
"One thing I'm confident of is, by the end of this decade, we're going to be very glad the Republicans termed this 'Obamacare,' because when the reality of health care is in place, it's going to be nothing like the kind of fearmongering that was done," David Plouffe, a senior adviser to the president, said Sunday on ABC's This Week.
A Supreme Court spokeswoman said that the general public was assigned 120 seats in the courtroom, with 34 more seats reserved for people who got given a three-to-five-minute glimpse in rotation. Members of the Supreme Court Bar got 76 assigned seats, and the media got 117 places.
Tuesday's arguments focus on the most disputed part of the health reform law – the individual mandate. Originally a Republican idea, the mandate requires that everyone who is not covered by government or employer-sponsored health insurance buy insurance or pay a penalty.
The Court is not expected to rule on the case until June. All of President Obama’s would-be Republican challengers have vowed to repeal the law if elected with enough support in Congress to do it.
By late afternoon about 40 people were sitting in plastic folding chairs along First Street NE, flanked by a sea of cameras, reporters, and knotted wires and cables, waiting to get in to witness Tuesday’s arguments. First in line was Kathie McClure, an Atlanta lawyer and health care activist. A veteran of the weekend shift, McClure has been sitting out on the sidewalk since Friday afternoon, allowing the other weekenders to cut in front of her on Monday so she could be first in line for Tuesday’s arguments on the individual mandate.
The vast majority of the line is made up of paid line-sitters, resting listlessly on cots and in chairs, swapping stories over cigarettes. A group of seven or so college-aged kids brought up the rear, talking policy.