Return to the Latest

Being There: Notes from SCOTUS’ ACA Ruling

By Matt Wolfson with Derek Pugh

The intern from Campus Progress standing next to us summed up the mood of the morning when she noted to her friend, “It’s gonna be hard to go back to work after this.”

To stand in the crush of people massing near the base of the Supreme Court’s steps—all waiting for news of the justices’ ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act to filter out of the closed courtroom where John Roberts was reading it—did not qualify as the standard Thursday morning experience in Washington, D.C.

There were the tourists and bystanders, getting their bearings and taking in the scene. There was the genial middle-aged man selling shirts labeled “CorrectionsNovember6 (though what he wanted to correct at that point remained obscure), and the considerably less genial man holding a sign reading “Reject Romney AND Obama” (though the nature of his proposed alternative was also unclear.) There was the media presence: recognizable faces like NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell (sitting in the middle of a string of cameras on the sidewalk, chatting with what appeared to be her camerawoman) and FOX’s Greta van Susteren (standing on the steps, adjusting her posture) and less noticeable newspaper and magazine journalists mingling with the crowd. There was the odd congressional or campaign aide (“had to see this before I went to work”) and even the occasional friend from college we happened across (“Working for Tim Kaine now, you should come out and campaign with us!”; “Hey, what’re you up to Friday?”)

There was, more immediately, the Pro-Life/anti-ObamaCare rally occurring to our right (the anthem of which appeared to be “Amazing Grace”) and its less-organized but more ardently aggressive subsidiary in front of us (“You kill babies!”). There was our group of pro-ACA marchers: walking in a circle, chanting “We Love ObamaCare,” blaring music (selections from Adele and “We Will Rock You”) and holding signs (“Moving Forward: Protecting our Care” “We Heart ObamaCare”).

There was Angela Botticella of ProtectYourCare, who, at 9:55 as an anticipatory lull fell over the crowd, assumed her place at the small lectern at the center of our circle, phone in hand, to report on developments from inside the courtroom. There was the message, at one minute after ten, that Justice Kennedy was reading an opinion on a different case from the Ninth Circuit; the statement, at 10:07, that the healthcare ruling was being announced; and, finally and suddenly, at 10:08, Angela’s announcement (“the mandate’s upheld!”), followed by a small recoil of shock, and then cheering which amplified as more confirmation poured in (“The bottom line,” said SCOTUSblog, “the entire ACA is upheld, with the exception that the federal government’s power to terminate states’ Medicaid funds is narrowly read.”)

There was the revelation that the savior of ObamaCare had been not Anthony Kennedy but, in fact, John Roberts. There were the still-loud voices of the pro-lifers next door, talking about going to Congress for repeal. There was the replaying, at louder volume, of “We Will Rock You!” There were the valedictory pictures with friends and strangers, accompanied by shouts (“We were here!” “History happened today!” “Thank you, John Roberts!”)

It was hard, as our friend from CampusProgress said, to go back to work this morning, though champagne was waiting when we got there.