WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Marching, singing demonstrators, doctors in white coats, a presidential hopeful and even a four-man brass band showed up at the Supreme Court Monday. As the justices inside heard high-toned arguments, it was a decidedly democratic display on the broad sidewalk out front.
By the time the court’s oral arguments began, more than 100 people had gathered in support of President Barack Obama’s health care law, walking in circles and chanting. Some stood singing "We Shall Overcome." A band of students from Howard University played New Orleans-style jazz riffs on two trumpets, a trombone and a flugelhorn.
More than a dozen opponents of the law mixed in, carrying signs that protested "Obamacare" or that urged the Supreme Court, "Don’t Get it WRONG again." They chanted, "We love the Constitution."
A heated discussion between a supporter of the law and a detractor broke out at one point, briefly drawing a crowd around them, but the demonstrations remained peaceful.
When former Sen. Rick Santorum showed up to score some points for his Republican presidential bid, he was nearly drowned out by demonstrators chanting, "Health care is a right." Santorum took a different view, saying the law was unconstitutional and that the high court’s decision would have far-reaching effects on "basic liberty in our society."
Santorum said his rival, GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, was absent from the scene because he was "uniquely disqualified" to make the case against the law, having signed a similar bill while governor of Massachusetts.
About two dozen doctors spoke to reporters from the steps of the court, describing how their patients would be helped if the high court upholds the law meant to bring insurance coverage to almost every American. Among the small throng of white lab coats was Georgetown University medical student Kate Prather, carrying her tiny dog, Ellie.
Dr. Alice Chen of Los Angeles, executive director of Doctors for America, a group supporting the law, said: "This is not about politics. It’s about people."
Keli Carender, 32, of Seattle, wore an American flag bandanna around her wrist and another stuck in her pants pocket. A tea party member, Carender said she has health insurance through her job at a nonprofit group but would drop it in protest if the law’s mandate that almost all Americans have insurance or pay a fine goes into effect in 2014.
Others lined up for hours, even camping overnight, for a chance to see the arguments firsthand.
Nurses Lauri Lineweaver and Laura Brennaman said they arrived at noon on Sunday. They scored tickets Nos. 10 and 11.
Brennaman, 53, said she spent 30 years working in emergency rooms and frequently saw people without insurance coming in as a last resort to get health care they couldn’t afford.
It was a hot ticket even in Congress. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., an opponent of the health care law, watched the non-televised arguments at the invitation of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Johnson told reporters afterward: "I was begging to be in that courtroom on this very historic day."