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Day 2: Supreme Court hears key constitutional question on health care law’s individual mandate

WASHINGTON -- Many demonstrators arrived even earlier today, by 6:30 on a chilly morning, for the second day of Supreme Court hearings over the future of President Obama’s landmark health care law. By 8 a.m., hundreds flooded the sidewalk in front of the court house steps.

“Protect our care. Protect the law,” chanted a circle of supporters of the law, some dressed as the Statue of Liberty, complete with the torch and other carried signs resembling a pack of birth control pills.

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A woman opposed to the law stood right next to the group, silently waving a hand-written poster board that said “Your pills. Your bills.” On the other side: “Keep your ovaries off my rosaries.”

Within minutes, a chorus of opponents to the law built to rival the supporters as both groups shouted louder to try to drown each other out: “Stop Obamacare. We love freedom.”

At the crux of today’s debate: whether Congress has the constitutional authority to require that nearly all Americans purchase health insurance, and whether it has the right to assess a financial penalty for those who refuse.

Twenty six states, a small business group, and some individuals are suing the government on the basis that the mandate threatens individual liberty by forcing people into the insurance market.

The government argues that everyone is already in the health care market – which makes up nearly 18 percent of the economy -- because everyone will need health care at some point in their lives, and the mandate is necessary to make one of the key provisions of health reform – that insurers cannot discriminate on pre-existing medical conditions -- work.

This morning’s hearing will span two hours, twice the normal length.

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