Live

Watch CBSN Live

The view from inside the Supreme Court for the Obamacare decision

Editor's note:When the Supreme Court issues its decisions - especially on highly anticipated cases like the Obamacare subsidies case or same-sex marriage - reporters obtain the rulings in any of several different ways. Some wait in the press office for the paper decision to be handed out (and if they work in television, there's a mad sprint by the production assistants from the press office to the on-air reporter's live shot position on the steps of the Court), while others sit at their desks and relentlessly hit the refresh button on the court's website.

There's little doubt that the most interesting option, if it's available, is to sit in the high court itself and wait. The justices can choose to read a portion of their opinions from the bench. It's their opportunity to reveal something beyond the written words of the opinion. CBS News Associate Producer Jillian Hughes was in the Court Thursday for Chief Justice John Roberts' reading of the majority opinion upholding the Obamacare subsidies and Justice Scalia's reading of the dissent. Because no one knows the timing of the announcement of the rulings, interested parties in the high-profile cases sometimes show up every day that the Court issues its rulings.

Jim Obergefell, the main named plaintiff in the same-sex marriage case, was first in the public line to enter the courtroom, as he has been for the past few days on which the Court was to issue its rulings. Once inside, he took a seat next to the press gallery and waited. That decision, it turned out, would not be announced Thursday.

At 9:55 a.m., a buzzer sounded - the five-minute warning for the entrance of the justices.

Mary Bonauto, the gay rights advocate who argued before the Court that same-sex marriage should be legal in the states, sat in the VIP gallery. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli sat in the front row of the bar section.

At 10:02 a.m. the Justices entered.

Justice Kennedy read from the decision on the disparate impact case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project. It appeared Justice Breyer could have used some more coffee. He put both hands on top of his head and dug his nails into his scalp. Then he moved on to rubbing his eyes. Justice Scalia sat back in his seat, reading something.

Kennedy said that this Court "holds that disparate impact claims may be brought under the FHA," emphasizing the word "may."

"This court does not write on a blank slate," he continued, as he recounted past disparate impact cases.

Kennedy closed by saying Thomas had filed a dissenting opinion, and Alito filed a dissenting opinion in which Roberts, Scalia and Thomas joined.

King v. Burwell: The Obamacare decision

There were audible "ooohs" from the press gallery as Chief Justice John Roberts then announced that he had written the opinion in King v. Burwell.

He spent a good amount of time outlining the questions of the case and the arguments before he gave any indication of what the court had decided. It felt like an eternity, sitting in the press gallery, waiting for him to reveal the ruling. Scalia and Kennedy (sitting on either side of Roberts) rocked back and forth in their chairs in unison. Their back-and-forth, back-and-forth rocking motions seemed to mark the tick-tock of time passing while we waited.

"Our duty is to construe statutes, not isolated provisions," Roberts said, and it felt as if the decision was coming. But then again, maybe not. He continued, "...[W]hen read in context...reach of the phrase is not so clear."

Supreme Court rules on Obamacare subsidies

Roberts went on to describe the phrase in question versus the overall law, saying the Affordable Care Act (ACA), "contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting." At that, there was laughter in the room. But none ensued from the bench.

To stress his point, he said the passing of ACA brought to mind a quote from Justice Felix Frankfurter, who was referencing a cartoon when he said, "We'll just have to pass it to know what it means." More laughter.

Then Roberts said the lack of subsidies could push a state's market into a "death spiral" and went on to say, of the threatening spiral, "It is implausible that Congress meant the act to operate in this matter."

Congress passed the ACA to improve healthcare, he said, not to destroy it.

Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, Roberts said, which Justices Thomas and Alito joined.

"Indeed," Scalia commented, to a bit of laughter in the courtroom. And Scalia began.

The Scalia dissent in King v. Burwell

You would think the answer here is obvious, he started, "The Secretary of Health and Human Services is not a state."

"Words no longer have any meaning," he said. If this is the interpretation to be followed, "under all the usual rules,...the government should lose this case."

He complained that the Court's interpretation gives the same phrase one meaning for purposes of tax credits but an entirely different meaning for other purposes. "How wonderfully convenient!," he remarked. The Court had turned the conventional provisions of interpretation "upside down," he said.

Roberts glanced toward the ceiling, as if hoping Scalia would wrap it up.

But Scalia continued. The Court passes off the phrase (in the ACA) "by the state" as a "drafting error." And the Court's job is not to save Congress from its drafting error, he claimed. If it were a drafting error, would they really have had "the same slip of the pen in seven different places?" he asked.

Having "transformed" two major parts of the law already, he contended, and now turning its attention to a third, "We really should start calling this law SCOTUScare." The courtroom laughed. The justices did not, and Roberts winced at the term. He looked as if someone had pinched him.

This "Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others," Scalia concluded.

The Court gaveled out without announcing which day would be the last of the session.

The press filed out of the courtroom just after 10:30 a.m. It had taken approximately 20-25 minutes for both the bench statement and dissent in King v. Burwell to be read.

View CBS News In