‘We’re sleeping between the Capitol and the Supreme Court. We’re really at ground zero.’


Supporters of the health reform law rally outside the Supreme Court on Sunday morning. (Sarah Kliff | The Washington Post)

“The worst part is the wet and the cold,” says Kathie McClure. When a thunderstorm came through on Saturday night, some linestanders asked if they could take shelter under the Supreme Court’s portico. A police officer said they could – but they would lose their spot in line.

When I last saw McClure, it was Friday afternoon around 3 p.m. The 57-year-old lawyer from Atlanta had just taken her spot as fifth in line to hear oral arguments. There were eight people in line, and a handful of reporters milling about.

Things looked pretty different when I caught her this morning: The scene outside the Supreme Court is a media circus, with hundreds of supporters of the Affordable Care Act (and a dozen or so opponents) rallying in front. There’s even a full brass band accompanying the supporters. Chants of “We love Obamacare!” go up against “We love the Constitution!”

“Some of this may be over my head,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) told reporters on his way into the Supreme Court. He nabbed a ticket for the Anti-Injunction Act arguments this morning, which will look at whether the Supreme Court even has standing to rule on the law.

“What is running through my brain as a non-attorney, when you read what this is premised on, the Wickard v. Filburn decision,” Johnson said. “There the Supreme Court decided unanimously that a wheat farmer didn’t have the right to decide how much wheat to grow for himself and feed his chickens. The way I view this is we’re being held captive by idiotic legal precedent.”

Johnson arrived at the Court about an hour before oral arguments were set to begin at 10 a.m. (they will reportedly be delayed for about a half-hour as the Supreme Court reads unrelated opinions). McClure, for her part, had been at the Court for about 60 hours – ten times longer than the entire oral arguments will last.

She’s showered three times at a nearby location that she doesn’t want to disclose. She’s been interviewed by pretty much every major media outlet, from the New York Times to CNN. She may have gotten one or two hours of sleep last night, at most.

“I’m honestly surprised I can hold a conversation at this point,” McClure says. She could have gone into today’s arguments, but is holding out for a seat Tuesday, when the Court takes up the health reform law’s individual mandate.

Camping out hasn’t been easy – McClure compares it to a two-week trip she took down the Grand Canyon in terms of rigor. But there are good parts, too.

“We’re sleeping between the Capitol and the Supreme Court building,” she says. “You can feel the earth moving around this place because we’re really at Ground Zero.”

McClure will be outside the Court for another 24 hours. After that, she says, her first order of business will be to take a nap.

“Then I’m going to wash my hair,” she says. “I do have on fresh clothes today, which is a very exciting thing.”

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