88
      Saturday
      83 / 67
      Sunday
      84 / 70
      Monday
      89 / 73

      Rick Santorum calls Obama health care law 'unconstitutional'

      Rick Santorum at the Supreme Court Monday. (Photo: Scott Thuman)

      (ABC7, AP) - Marching, singing demonstrators, doctors in white coats, a presidential hopeful and even a four-man brass band showed up at the Supreme Court Monday.

      When former Sen. Rick Santorum showed up to score some points for his Republican presidential bid, he was nearly drowned out by demonstrators chanting, "Health care is a right." Santorum took a different view, saying the law was unconstitutional and that the high court's decision would have far-reaching effects on "basic liberty in our society."

      Santorum pressed his own argument that he's the best candidate - and rival Mitt Romney is the worst - to challenge Obama on the health care issue in the fall.

      "There's one candidate who's uniquely disqualified to make the case. That's the reason I'm here and he's not," Santorum told reporters outside the Supreme Court as protesters behind him chanted, "Health care is a right."

      "This is the most important issue in this election," he said. While Romney says he would fight to repeal Obama's health care law, Santorum says Romney essentially is disqualified because he put in place a similar law in Massachusetts when he was governor, including a requirement that all residents buy health insurance.

      "This was a disaster in Massachusetts," Santorum said. Public polls, however, suggest that the vast majority of Massachusetts residents support the state health care system, which Romney signed into law in 2006.

      PHOTOS: Groups protest Obama's health care law.

      A similar so-called "individual mandate" in Obama's law has drawn the ire of conservatives, including Santorum. And that's a key argument for opponents who this week are asking the high court to strike down the law as unconstitutional.

      "If we make this the central issue in the campaign and we're successful, there's no doubt that Obamacare will be repealed in one form or another," Santorum said. "That not going to be the case with Gov. Romney."

      Santorum won Louisiana's primary Saturday but continues to lag behind Romney.

      Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Romney, dismissed the comments as coming from a candidate who "is becoming increasingly shrill as his campaign hopes fade."

      During the historic Supreme Court hearing, a band of students from Howard University played New Orleans-style jazz riffs on two trumpets, a trombone and a flugelhorn. More than a dozen opponents of the law mixed in, carrying signs that protested "Obamacare" or that urged the Supreme Court, "Don't Get it WRONG again." They chanted, "We love the Constitution."

      A heated discussion between a supporter of the law and a detractor broke out at one point, briefly drawing a crowd around them, but the demonstrations remained peaceful.

      About two dozen doctors spoke to reporters from the steps of the court, describing how their patients would be helped if the high court upholds the law meant to bring insurance coverage to almost every American.

      Among the small throng of white lab coats was Georgetown University medical student Kate Prather, carrying her tiny dog, Ellie. Dr. Alice Chen of Los Angeles, executive director of Doctors for America, a group supporting the law, said: "This is not about politics. It's about people."

      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.

      Others lined up for hours, even camping overnight, for a chance to see the arguments firsthand. Nurses Lauri Lineweaver and Laura Brennaman said they arrived at noon on Sunday.

      They scored tickets Nos. 10 and 11. 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. It was a hot ticket even in Congress.

      Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., an opponent of the health care law, watched the non-televised arguments at the invitation of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Johnson told reporters afterward: "I was begging to be in that courtroom on this very historic day."