‘It’s going to be a circus’: Activists begin demonstrations outside Supreme Court over health care law

WASHINGTON—By Saturday, a short queue had already formed on the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court building, filled by people with hopes of snagging prime seats for what will likely be historic oral arguments debating the fate of President Barack Obama's health care law.

Those few souls, who braved a weekend of rain for the hottest ticket in town, will be joined by thousands more over the next three days, as activists from far and wide descend on Washington, D.C.

Tea parties, unions, liberal advocacy organizations, religious groups and nonaligned curiosity seekers are arriving outside the court, with rallies planned in front of the steps and in the nearby parks surrounding the building. Groups are busing thousands into the city from around the country for the three-day marathon. Demonstrations, counter-rallies and prayer vigils will be held each day under the watchful eye of security personnel and the discerning observations of hundreds of reporters from news agencies that have dispatched entire teams to cover the hearings.

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"It's going to be a circus," said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now, a Washington-based group that supports the health care law.

The organization is part of the liberal Campaign for America's Future, which will showcase personal stories from those who say they have benefited from the provisions already enacted by the law—and what will happen to them if the law is repealed.

"For us, this is an opportunity to tell the real story of the Affordable Care Act," Rome said. "This is going to be one of the most significant decisions in 100 years."

Dozens of other groups plan to bring hundreds more to the steps of the court to show support for the law.

Families USA, a liberal organization that focuses on health care policy, is arming its activists with talking points, a guide to the legal arguments backing the law and materials about the legal challenges. Members have even created what they call "The People's Amicus Brief," a petition to urge the court to uphold the law. Joined by other groups, Families USA has rented space in a building near the court's entrance that will serve as a media hub. Earlier this month, at least 100 people from liberal nonprofits met with White House officials to coordinate demonstration plans, the New York Times reported.

The liberal groups will be met by thousands of conservative activists who will rally their opposition to the law. Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a conservative group with chapters throughout the country, is bringing as many as 60 buses filled with demonstrators from Virginia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan and Connecticut. Twenty other conservative groups, including several tea party organizations, are teaming up with AFP to organize a "Hands Off Our Health Care" rally in a nearby park on Tuesday. Republican members of Congress as well as several other conservative leaders are scheduled to speak at the rally.

[RELATED: Obama's health care law passed 2 years ago, but where are we now?]

"This is one of the most important cases in a generation, and the White House is working contrary to the will of the American people," said Tim Phillips, president of AFP. "That's why President Obama is doing everything possible to generate last-minute support for a law that we feel violates the Constitution."

On the Friday before the hearings, a team from FreedomWorks, a national tea party organizing group, carted boxes filled with about 120,000 printed petitions to Capitol Hill from people who oppose the law. At the offices of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the FreedomWorks employees unloaded the documents onto a desk in the front room.

"Reid and Pelosi's offices didn't welcome us," said Dean Clancy, vice president of Health Care Policy at FreedomWorks, "but with all those signatures, they heard our message loud and clear: Repeal this unpopular law now."

Behind the scenes, both liberal and conservative groups have filed a record number of amicus briefs with the court—136 in all—to make their own cases for and against the law, and both sides are planning a media blitz that will likely saturate television and radio airways throughout the week.

Over the next three days, as opponents and proponents make their oral arguments, Yahoo News will be inside the Supreme Court chamber to hear the case, and outside the building reporting on the activists.

The court will announce its ruling in June.

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