Outside the Supreme Court, hordes of demonstrators have marched, chanted, yelled and argued over President Obama’s health care law. Doctors and cancer survivors have told emotional stories about how the law helped them, while tea party supporters brandishing American flags have scoffed at them.
But for the handful of state attorneys general actually arguing against ObamaCare inside the Supreme Court, the debate isn’t about feelings or stories. In fact, according to the challengers, it’s not even about health care.
That’s what South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson told reporters this afternoon as the group of Republican attorneys general, led by Florida’s Pam Bondi, huddled at the Florida House near the court.
Wilson offered an analogy: If his child needed a heart transplant and he couldn’t afford it, he could rob a store for the money. While his intentions were good, the crime was still illegal, he argued — just as while “ObamaCare” might provide better health care, it breaks the rules of the Constitution (or so he and the Republican AGs say).
“This is not about hurting people. This is not about health care,” Wilson said. “As attorneys general, our job is to live and die by the Constitution.”
In arguments Tuesday about the so-called individual mandate, the AGs will try to persuade the justices that the Affordable Care Act unjustly forces people to have health insurance or else pay what they call a penalty and the administration calls a tax.
Today the administration argued that the fee is not a tax, though in a different manner that was related to a law that says a tax can’t be challenged until it’s taken effect (the main provisions of the health care law won’t go into effect until 2014).
Justice Samuel Alito wryly noted that “today you are arguing that the penalty is not a tax” and that “tomorrow you will be back and arguing that the penalty is a tax.”
Bondi has repeated that quote throughout the day. The attorneys general have said that neither the administration nor Congress called the mandate fee a tax when the legislation was being crafted.
“Tomorrow, we anticipate the federal government will change their argument,” she said.
It’s unclear whether the energy outside the court will last past tonight. Some people waiting in line to hear the arguments declined to go in today, instead saving their place for a prime seat in the show Tuesday. Tea party supporters also noted that a bigger rally for conservatives is planned for Tuesday, when the mandate is formally debated.
“Tomorrow’s the big day,” Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said.