As news spread of today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling largely upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the reaction in the crowd outside the court mirrored responses around Washington, with almost equal parts surprise, elation and outrage.
In the hours leading up to the announcement, hundreds of supporters, opponents and spectators gathered on the sidewalk in front of the court. One group knelt in prayer. Others marched in circles to a drumbeat. Chants ranged from, "Hey hey, ho ho, Obamacare has got to go" and "Tyranny never, freedom forever," to "We love Obamacare."
A cheer went up as opponents of the law heard that its key provision, the so-called individual mandate, had been struck down. But then they heard that perhaps it hadn't. The crowd grew quiet as demonstrators consulted with one another and their electronic devices to find out what exactly had happened, and a new cheer rose up from supporters of the law as they learned that the Court had, in fact, ruled in their favor.
Calls from Republican lawmakers and conservative interest groups to repeal the law came swiftly. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged to push for repeal if elected. "Obamacare was bad law yesterday, it is bad law today," he said at a press conference today.
President Barack Obama, speaking from the White House, called on the country to "move forward," saying that the law enjoyed broad support and offered "common sense protections" for middle class families. "The highest court in the land has now spoken," he said. "We will continue to implement this law. And we'll work together to improve on it where we can. But what we won’t do — what the country can't afford to do — is refight the battles of two years ago."
But those battles raged on in the hours after the decision was announced. Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.), speaking outside the courthouse to a crowd of Tea Party activists and other opponents of the law, called for repeal. "Today is a tragic day," he said. As Landry and other Republican lawmakers spoke, supporters of the law standing nearby chanted, "Yes we will," and called for Obama's re-election in the fall.
On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders in both chambers immediately announced renewed efforts to try to undo the law’s provisions, while Democrats said they would now move ahead with plans to expand Medicare and other healthcare initiatives.
Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who led the fight against the health care law, said Congress must act to repeal the law and give Americans the kind of healthcare they actually want. He has pledged to make repeal of the law the first vote next year if Republicans are elected to the Senate majority in 2013. “Today’s decision does nothing to diminish the fact that Obamacare’s mandates, tax hikes, and Medicare cuts should be repealed," he said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Republicans respect the Court's decision — but that it has strengthened their resolve to undo the law. “The court makes a decision if the law is Constitutional,” Boehner said at a press conference. “It doesn’t determine if a law is wise.”
It's likely that a vote to repeal the law in the House would get stuck in the Democrat-led Senate, however. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the floor after the Court's decision to make that clear. “Our Supreme Court has spoken,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “The matter is settled.”
Interest groups also weighed in along ideological lines.
The National Federation of Independent Business, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the health care law, was "incredibly disappointed" in the Court's decision, NFIB president and chief executive officer Dan Danner said in a phone conference. The NFIB will push for repeal, he added. "The overall health care bill in our opinion doesn't work for small business," Danner said. "Their costs are still going up and we believe that the remaining bill will make their costs worse, not better."
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Donohue, in a statement, said the law remained "fundamentally flawed." Donohue said that "it is imperative that policymakers and the business community now work together to develop and support genuine reforms that control costs, improve access, ensure quality, and promote wellness."
Supporters responded with enthusiasm, surprise at Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.'s break with the Court's conservative justices and calls for a focus on putting the law's provisions into action.
Ron Pollack, executive director and vice president of health care advocacy organization Families USA, called the ruling a "hallelujah moment" for families. Speaking outside the courthouse, he called it "an extraordinary moment."
Constitutional Accountability Center Chief Counsel Elizabeth Wydra said in a statement that the ruling "is a victory for the rule of law and a death blow to the tea party." Center President Doug Kendall called it "a triumph for the Constitution’s text and history."
Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, said in a statement that today's decision "is a giant step toward the goal of providing health insurance for all Americans….This decision brings the United States into league with the ever-growing number of nations — rich and poor — that have found it to be economically prudent to provide health care to their citizens."
Although the details of the opinion were still being digested well into the afternoon, Walter Dellinger, a former U.S. solicitor general and now a partner at O'Melveny & Myers, said in a conference call that he thought the Court "stepped back from the brink."
Dellinger said that the law's provisions, from providing health insurance coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions to the expansion of Medicaid, are "enormous and dwarfs both the politics and the legal theory of this."
Staff writers Matthew Huisman, Andrew Ramonas, Todd Ruger and Zoe Tillman contributed to this report. National Law Journal photos by Diego M. Radzinschi.