Lobby Groups Blanket Supreme Court on Obama Health Care Plan
Justice Clarence Thomas likens all the outside political pressure that the Supreme Court is facing over its review of the Obama administration’s sweeping health care law to the distraction faced by a free-throw shooter confronted with fans waving wildly behind the basket. Neither, in his view, has much impact in the end.
“I don’t watch the evening news,” Justice Clarence Thomas said, adding that pressures from the outside did not affect work.
“Why do you think they’re never distracted? They’re focusing on the rim, right?” Justice Thomas said when asked at a forum two weeks ago about the pressures of the health care case. “That’s the same thing here. You stay focused on what you’re supposed to do. All that other stuff is just noise.”
With three days of arguments scheduled for this week, the nine justices will need the steely nerves of a clutch free-throw shooter to block out all the noise surrounding a case that has generated perhaps the most intense outside lobbying campaign that the court has ever seen.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has helped lead opposition to the health care law, has been hosting moot court sessions to prepare lawyers involved in the case. Advocates on all sides of the issues, including Tea Party leaders who are against the law and health care professionals who favor it, are planning rallies. Many groups, like the American Constitution Society, liberal backers of the law and of Congress’s power to regulate commerce, are setting up war rooms and daily briefings on the Supreme Court steps.
In all, groups involved in the debate have spent tens of millions of dollars in the last two years to steer the political and legal debate. And a record number of organizations — 136 so far — have filed amicus curiae or “friend of the court” briefs, densely packed with historical citations and legal arguments, to urge the court to either strike down or uphold the law.
“Whenever you see a blockbuster case, we see the different groups coming out,” said Anthony Franze, a Washington lawyer who was a co-author of a study of such amicus briefs. “And this is the blockbuster of blockbusters.”
With the start of arguments this week, the lobbying efforts move from Congress squarely to the Supreme Court, which has found itself drawn increasingly into politically charged cases in recent years, including its intervention in the 2000 Florida recount in Bush v. Gore; its rulings limiting the sweep of executive power in Guantánamo Bay; and its remaking of campaign finance law in the 2010 Citizens United ruling.
Lobbyists and lawyers with a stake in the case will be giving near-instant analysis for their clients and for reporters, many of whom will be covering the arguments from start to finish.
Proponents of the sweeping 2010 law, working with the White House, have also developed “talking points” to emphasize the potential harm if the law is thrown out, including the reduction in coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and for young adults who wish to remain on their parents’ policies.
The groups filing amicus briefs include not only the usual heavy hitters like the chamber, AARP and virtually every major health care association, but also obscure groups that have rarely, if ever, been involved in a Supreme Court case.
“We don’t expect to be even a blip on the court’s radar, except to maybe count up the ‘for’ and ‘against,’ ” said Quentin Rhoades, a lawyer for the Montana Shooting Sports Association, which filed a 26-page brief opposing the law as a breach of states’ rights. He said he spent about 50 hours, pro bono, preparing the brief with another lawyer.
Dozens of other constituencies filing briefs put in similar efforts.