A GOP advertisement online altered audio from the Supreme Court’s health care law arguments this week in portraying the statute as hard to defend. The editing of the audio came under sharp criticism from two veteran attorneys.
In the ad, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who defended the Obama administration’s plan, is heard stuttering, pausing, coughing, and stopping for two drinks of water in opening his defense of the law.
A Republican National Committee transcript of his delivery, circulated with the web site ad, states: “For more than 80 percent of Americans, the ah insurance system does provide effective access [pause]. Excuse me. Ah [cough] it ah be-be because the ah the ah the [pause]. Excuse me.”
According to a Bloomberg article, it actually went this way: “For more than 80 percent of Americans, the, ah, insurance system does provide effective access,” Verrilli said. He paused briefly and said, “Excuse me.” He quickly continued, “But for more than 40 million who do not have access to health insurance, either through their employer or through government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid, the system does not work.”
The Republican ad says about “Obamacare,” that “It’s a tough sell.”
According to Bloomberg, “The ad marks a blurring of the line between the law and politics, in which the nation’s highest court — and the justices and lawyers who decide and argue cases — are becoming fodder for Republicans’ and Democrats’ arguments over the validity of the president’s signature domestic legislative achievement.”
“Unbelievable,” said Walter Dellinger, who was solicitor general under Democratic President Bill Clinton, about the ad. “It’s a dramatic instance of the politicization that has surrounded this challenge and totally unfair to one of the most widely admired lawyers in public service.”
Tom Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog, condemned the ad in a post entitled “The RNC shoots itself in the mouth.” He wrote:
“I’ve been in practice for seventeen years, and the blog has existed for ten, and this is the single most classless and misleading thing I’ve ever seen related to the Court. It is as if the RNC decided to take an incredibly serious and successful argument that has the chance to produce a pathbreaking legal victory for a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, drag it through the mud, and vomit on it.”
Timothy R. Johnson, a University of Minnesota political science professor, said, “This ad is the justices’ worst nightmare.” He added, “It’s the reason why they don’t want cameras in the court.”
RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer said the video was a “mash-up,” combining separate pauses and stutters by Verrilli in his opening argument. ”Are there multiple clips in that video? Yes,” Spicer said. “The point was that he continually had to stop because he was having trouble making the case for why Obamacare was valid.”