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Today, the Supreme Court made a historic decision to allow Congress to tax citizens for not purchasing health care insurance while striking down the mandatory state expansion of Medicare.
Hundreds stood in line outside the Supreme Court, waiting to hear the reading of this monumental case. Hundreds of others gathered outside, ready to protest or support the decision. The press milled around them, gathering footage, while police tried to maintain order as the hot morning drew on.
I joined the crowd at 6:30 a.m., hoping for the chance to be let inside to hear the court’s decision. At least 150 people were already standing in line by the time I arrived. Two people in front of me argued about whether the Affordable Care Act was constitutional. Reporters walked by and interviewed the more vocal people standing in line.
Greg Gibson, an intern at AmeriGroup, said he decided to see the decision because “I’ve supported this from the beginning.” Citizens need to get back to the American government protecting the people from the powerful, Gibson said. While he thinks the bill doesn’t accomplish everything that needs to be done to change health care, we “have to start somewhere.” As a 22-year-old history student at William and Mary, he will be covered under his parents’ health insurance until the age of 26. “I’m glad that I can be under my parents’ insurance,” he said. “It’s incredible that I get to be here,” Gibson said.
Not everyone was as excited about the prospect of the mandate being upheld. Bill McCaffrey, a professor at the University of Maryland, said he thinks forcing people to have a health-care plan is unconstitutional. He had a problem with the fact that many didn’t read the bill before they approved it. Health care isn’t a right, McCaffrey said. He said he also disagreed with the state health-care mandate, especially because it would require insurance companies to provide birth control. McCaffrey said it’s up to individuals to take responsibility for their health care. He does, however, believe that there should be a safety net for those who truly need it but that it should be “at the state and local level.”
As time passed, more protestors arrived and the crowd became anxious to enter the courtroom. People began yelling at each other for cutting in line, telling them to “get in the back of the line” and “it’s not fair, we’ve been here since 6 a.m.!” The police marshals started to let people enter, 50 at a time. Finally, at 9:40 a.m., just 20 minutes before the biggest court decision of the decade, I was allowed to enter the courtroom. A sigh of relief and a sense of success filled the group I was with as we weaved our way through the protest crowd and up the steps of the Supreme Court.
Inside the dark marbled building, we were ushered through two metal detectors and told to put our electronics and personal belongings in a locker. The only things we were allowed to bring in was notebook and a writing utensil. The court marshals were serious and the entire courtroom was tense with anticipation. One by one, we were allowed to enter the courtroom, a small, square room bordered with marble pillars and dark, lush red curtains. We were told to be quiet. At the stroke of 10 a.m., the Supreme Court Justices entered.
As Chief Justice John Roberts read the decision, the room was silent except for the sound of frantic writing and the occasional cough. When the audience realized that the mandate had been upheld, a sense of relief and intensity filled the room. Friends looked at each other in surprise from across the room. The court stayed silent as Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg read their dissents; Kennedy dissented in full while Ginsburg only dissented in part. As the room was emptied, people began to whisper, some in support of the ruling, some against.
Outside, the tension that I felt in the courtroom followed. Rep. Michele Bachmann read a speech to the crowd, angered at the decision by the court. Others in the crowd yelled out in protest. The two groups surged at each other, while reporters whizzed around, wanting to document every aspect of the protest. Tourists stood by taking photos while policeofficers tried to maintain a sense of order in the small courtyard. America finally had the answer to the question they had been asking for years: what would happen to healthcare? The Affordable Care Act was upheld, but changed to reflect the decision of the court. What that means to the states and to the American people will be determined in the coming months.
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