Health-Care Arguments at High Court Draw Early Spectator Line

Spectators began lining up three days in advance to witness U.S. Supreme Court arguments over President Barack Obama’s health-care law, the highest-profile case since the justices resolved the disputed 2000 presidential election.

A dozen people, mostly professional line-standers trying to save seats for their employers’ clients, sat on a stone ledge yesterday bordering the grounds of the marble court building, across the street from the U.S. Capitol. The first 60 in line on March 26 will get tickets to attend the first of three arguments testing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, signed by Obama two years ago yesterday.

“You couldn’t get me to stay away from this,” said Jethro Maddox, 54, a community activist from Rochester, New York. Recalling that the Supreme Court “practically nullified the New Deal” when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president in the 1930s, Maddox said the justices “may be heading for that again, and I want to bear witness, indignant witness, if that’s what happens.”

The line formed on a sunny day with clear skies and Maddox was unfazed by a forecast of violent thunderstorms over the weekend.

“I came here assuming I would be here all night anyway, maybe a couple of days,” he said. “I have an umbrella.”

It has been almost 12 years now since the court attracted this kind of interest, when it ordered a halt to vote counting in Florida and ensured Republican George W. Bush would defeat Democrat Al Gore for the presidency.

Most of those in the queue yesterday declined to be interviewed or even to identify themselves.

Waiting for Arguments

Oliver Gomez said his company, linestanding.com, had deployed five of those who were sitting outside the high court.

“We have more people coming out as needed” he said.

His line-standers, including Angela West and John Spears -- “my right-hand man” -- are expected to stay for the duration of the wait, with time off for meal and shower breaks, he said.

“They kind of live around the vicinity,” he said. “I will give them an hour, an hour and half at most to take care of personal business.” Gomez, 42, has supervised line-standing at congressional hearings where seating is often limited.

For others who don’t have a nearby place to stay, there are restrooms at Senate office buildings or, after hours, at Union Station and a McDonalds restaurant several blocks away.

Unnamed Clients

Gomez said he couldn’t identify any clients by name because his boss keeps that information “close to him.”

“Some of them are big lobbyists; some are small-time lawyers just interested in whatever part. I am not too sure” said Gomez. “They want face time, people want to be right there.”

Atlanta trial lawyer Kathie McClure said she “threw everything in a suitcase” and booked a flight to Washington because “our family has a stake in this. My son has diabetes and my daughter has epilepsy.”

She brought a blue, folding camp chair and a suitcase stocked with a few changes of clothes, power bars, trail mix and beef jerky.

“What do you need a hotel for?” she said.

McClure, 57, president of Votehealthcare.org, said she plans to try to attend all three days of the court arguments. “I will be standing,” she said, turning to Spears. “We’re going to manage, right John?”

McClure, wearing a brown skirt and matching brown sneakers with blue laces, said she “became an advocate because I feared for the future for my children,” now in their 20s and working. Without “Obamacare, if they don’t have a job they don’t have health insurance.”

Praising Obamacare

Unlike Republicans who use the term Obamacare pejoratively, McClure said she is trying “to co-opt that negative and decide it’s a positive.”

“The Affordable Care Act doesn’t convey much to the average person, but everybody knows what Obamacare is,” she said. Asked about how she will cope with the lack of personal conveniences, McClure said, “I haven’t consulted with my line- mates yet.”

Not everyone at the court yesterday was there to witness history -- or support the law.

Laura Hanley, 42, a catering company owner from Jupiter, Florida, and her 10-year-old twin daughters, Keelie and Rileigh, walked past the line-standers.

She said will be attending a weekend rally on Capitol Hill to protest the health-care law.

“We’re just tired” of government “telling us what to do,” she said. The rally is “the only way to tell your government you care,” said Hanley, a Republican candidate for the Palm Beach County Commission. “I want to let them know I’m watching.”

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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