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Health Care Reform At Supreme Court: Line Begins Three Days Early

Posted: 03/23/2012 7:59 pm Updated: 03/23/2012 9:25 pm

Kathie Mcclure
Kathie McClure, first in line for Supreme Court health care cases.

The Supreme Court's health care cases don't begin until 10 a.m. Monday, but the line for the general public to see the action started more than 72 hours earlier. By the the middle of Friday afternoon, the line was already about 10 people deep. The only one not getting paid to be there -- that is, the first actual spectator who will gain entry to the proceedings -- was Kathie McClure.

"I originally thought that I was going to be starting here tomorrow," McClure said. "I came over here to do some recon and there were four people already in line, so I thought, 'Oh gosh.'"

McClure, an Atlanta-based trial lawyer, rushed back to her hotel room in northern Virginia, "dumped everything" into her suitcase, and took her place along the Supreme Court sidewalk to guarantee her ticket to witness history.

The wait will not be easy. Weather forecasts call for thunderstorms beginning Friday night and lasting through Sunday. No tents are allowed. Supreme Court police told HuffPost there will be a single line for all four oral arguments scheduled from Monday through Wednesday. Those at the front of the line can pass on a ticket for Monday's more technical argument to keep their prime spot for the main event -- Tuesday's test of the individual mandate's constitutionality.

McClure said she wants to attend Tuesday, if she can make it four days on the sidewalk. As president of VoteHealthcare.org, she's is in town to make a bold statement of support for the Affordable Care Act -- a sentiment that comes from own family's experience. "I have two chronically ill young adult children," she said. "My son has diabetes and my daughter has epilepsy. We need the Affordable Care Act to be upheld by the Supreme Court because people like my kids, without the Affordable Care Act, won't be able to buy health insurance" because their pre-existing conditions would make them uninsurable.

"They have insurance now because they currently have jobs, but it's been a long battle for our family," McClure said. "They were both diagnosed at 14 and we paid $35,000 a year to insure four people, which is ridiculous."

Big Supreme Court cases often draw long lines, but multi-day overnights are rare. The last such long haul was for a major Second Amendment case two years ago, which compelled a California gun-rights enthusiast and his friend to begin the queue 30 hours early.

For some, the wait is a badge of honor. McClure, however, sees her trek as a black mark upon the court's no-cameras policy. "I think it is absurd that I have to travel to Washington, D.C., and sleep on the sidewalk for three days to get a seat in front of the Supreme Court of the United States," she said. "This is our judicial branch, our institution, and it's essentially for all practical purposes closed off to the public."

Of the 400 seats in the courtroom, the court normally guarantees only 50 for members of the general public to attend a full session. Because the health care cases have commanded so much interest, 60 seats will be made available. The court also will release audio recordings of the arguments several hours after each one finishes, departing from the practice begun in 2010 to post all of the recordings at the end of the week.

"I dont think that transcripts and auditoapes are the same as seeing our court do its work," McClure said. "The public would benefit greatly from being able to observe what's going on and how this case is going to be decided."

Professional line-standers waiting with McClure said they were charging from $20 an hour to $40 an hour for holding spots for clients.

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