March 27, 2012

Lawmaker from Hallowell is eyewitness to history

By Jonathan Riskind jriskind@mainetoday.com
Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — Maine state Rep. Sharon Anglin Treat, D-Hallowell, walked out of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday after listening to the first round of oral arguments over President Obama's health care law and shook her head at the contrast.

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State Rep. Sharon Anglin Treat, D-Hallowell

Inside the august chamber, where Treat snared a third-row seat after getting in line at 5:20 a.m., the justices quizzed all sides on fine legal points as the rapt audience looked on.

Outside, competing groups of demonstrators chanted, sang, made speeches and waved placards with slogans like "people of faith for health care" and "repeal Obamacare," vying for attention from photographers and TV cameras.

"In the courtroom, it is nothing like this ... circus atmosphere," Treat said. "People are sitting in their seats. They are very quiet and respectful. It is all about the law."

Treat is a proponent of the Affordable Care Act who believes it will help constituents in Maine and millions of other Americans gain access to health insurance.

Her trip to Washington was financed partly out of her own pocket and partly by a nonprofit group that works with liberal state legislators, the Progressive States Network.

Treat is the ranking Democrat on the Legislature's Insurance and Financial Services Committee, a sponsor of the proposal to implement a state health insurance exchange required by the law, and a founding member of the Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform.

Treat had an advantage over many others who got in line over the weekend to get into the courtroom. She is a member of the Supreme Court Bar, which put her in a shorter line than most members of the public.

Treat has never argued a case before the high court, but she has been present for a number of cases, dating back to her time in the early 1980s as a law student at Georgetown University. She became a member of the Supreme Court Bar around 1985, when she was involved in a case that she hoped would make it to the Supreme Court, but never did.

The session Treat attended Monday probed the issue of whether it's premature for the Supreme Court to rule on the case at all, since the mandate for most Americans to buy health insurance or face fines won't take effect until 2014.

Treat said she agreed with experts who concluded that the justices didn't appear inclined to allow that issue to keep them from deciding the case now.

"This is huge," Treat said of the health care case. "I have been to arguments before, but this is the most historic argument ... maybe in my lifetime. This case will decide whether many, many millions of people have health care" coverage.

On Wednesday, Maine Attorney General William Schneider plans to attend an oral argument that will revolve around whether Congress had the power to require states to expand Medicaid as part of the new law.

Schneider, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, won't be one of the lawyers arguing the case. But Maine is one of 26 states that signed on to the lawsuit against the health care reform law, arguing that the law's mandate for individuals to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

Schneider is paying his expenses partly on his own and partly by using a Maine Attorney General's Office "settlement account," according to his office. That account is not taxpayer funds, but money won through litigation such as consumer anti-trust cases, his office said.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: jriskind@mainetoday.com

Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC

 

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