WASHINGTON — Demonstrators with dueling chants, singers, doctors in white coats, even a presidential candidate and a brass quartet joined hundreds of people sounding off Monday on the broad sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court as the justices considered President Barack Obama's health care law.
As the justices listened to legal arguments, demonstrators said it was important their messages be heard too.
By the time arguments began indoors, the sidewalk in front of the court was filled. More than 100 health care law supporters walked in a circle, chanting slogans like "1, 2, 3, 4, health care is what we're fighting for" and "Care for you. Care for me. Care for every family." One supporter walked with a cane and another drove a motorized scooter. They were joined by a four-piece band of students from Howard University playing New Orleans-style jazz riffs on trumpets and a trombone.
A much smaller group of detractors had their own signs including, "Mr. Obama tear down this bill." To supporters' chants of "We love Obamacare" the opponents who believe the law is unconstitutional answered with "We love the Constitution."
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum held a brief press conference outside the court after the argument concluded. He vowed to fight for repeal of the health care law if elected and knocked rival Mitt Romney for putting in place a similar health care law as governor of Massachusetts.
At least two heated sidewalk discussions broke out between the law's opponents and supporters, one of them a parent whose son had a kidney transplant and another whose wife has a health care business. But the demonstrations remained peaceful.
Early in the day, about two dozen doctors stood in front of the court for a press conference with speakers describing how their patients would be helped if the high court upholds the law meant to bring insurance coverage to almost every American.
"This is not about politics. It's about people," said Dr. Alice Chen of Los Angeles, executive director of Doctors for America, a group supporting the law.
Robert Kennedy, a resident in internal medicine at New York's Jacobi Medical Center in The Bronx, described treating the uninsured, many of whom wait to come to the hospital until they are very sick. Kennedy, 29, said one uninsured man worried about the cost of care delayed going to the hospital for pneumonia until it became difficult for him to breathe.
Many opponents of the new law, meanwhile, wore American flag bandanas and called for the court to strike down the law. Keli Carender, 32, of Seattle, wore an American flag bandanna around her wrist and another stuck in her pants pocket. A tea party member, Carender said she has health insurance through her job at a nonprofit group but would drop it in protest if the law's mandate that almost all Americans have insurance or pay a fine goes into effect in 2014.
Another demonstrator against the law, Diana Reimer of Lansdale, Pa., also said her main issue is with the individual mandate.
"If the government can tell us we have to buy this, what else can they tell you to do?" said Reimer, 69, who was wearing silver tea bag earrings to show her affiliation with a tea party group.
Demonstrators weren't the only ones outside the court. Other people lined up for hours. some even over the weekend, camping overnight for a chance to see the arguments firsthand. In the morning, the sidewalk was littered with sleeping bags, lawn chairs and even a portable hammock.
Nurses Lauri Lineweaver and Laura Brennaman arrived at noon on Sunday and scored red tickets numbered 10 and 11 that admitted them to Monday's argument.
Brennaman, 53, said she spent 30 years working in emergency rooms and frequently saw people without insurance coming in as a last resort to get health care they couldn't afford. Lineweaver, 35, said it was "an honor to be in the court."
College students Zach Rounceville, 21, and Chad Reichard, 20, arrived just after 7 a.m. and were the last people who got in to see Monday's arguments, with tickets numbered 59 and 60.
Reichard, a student at American University from Waynesboro, Pa., said he has classes Tuesday and can't return. But, he said: "I'd love to be in line tomorrow."
Carender, the American-flag-wearing opponent of the law, said late in the afternoon that her group would be back.
"Same time, same place," she said. "We'll be here all week."