With pomp and circumstance, a court official yells out, announcing the justices’ arrival. All rose as the tall chairs fill. There they were: Clarence Thomas himself, Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Ruth Ginsburg, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

At 10 a.m. the first case began. I had little idea what they were talking about, but it was clear that Justice Stephen Breyer was getting annoyed with one lawyer, something about paper companies, when new companies are legally created but have the same old owners.

By 11 a.m. Maine Rx was on. The legal teams moved closer to the bench.

PhRMA lawyer Phillip Carte went first, arguing that, if allowed, Maine’s law would hold Medicaid patients “hostage” so that drug company discounts “could help the Stephen Kings of the world.”

There was no mention that Medicare seniors lack prescription coverage and have to worry about buying food or medicine, or that they take buses to Canada where prescriptions cost less.

Hagler was next, saying people without insurance pay the highest prices. What seemed more interesting to the judges was why the federal government didn’t approve Maine Rx, and whether Maine Rx hurt Medicaid patients.

Silent Thomas

During both hearings, Scalia and Breyer did much of the questioning. O’Connor and Rehquist did some, as did Ginsburg. Souter, Stevens and Kennedy asked a few questions. The only justice who offered no comments and asked no questions during the two hours was Clarence Thomas.

National stories have said that Thomas rarely speaks.

Press conference

After the hearing the judges left the room to a standing audience. The crowd filed out. The press rushed to the plaza. PhRMA spokeswoman Marjorie Powell spoke to a small army of cameras, microphones and tape recorders.

Then it was Hagler’s turn.

That night and the next day Hagler, with AG Steve Rowe standing beside him, was shown on television and in newspapers with the Supreme Court in the background. The Washington Post ran the story and photo on Page 2.

Regardless of the outcome, Maine made a splash.

The defendant

After the hearing Department of Human Services Commissioner Kevin Concannon made the assessment that Maine did well in the first half of oral arguments, but not the second. “I came away figuring on some points they might vote with us. Part of it went well,” Concannon said.

He said he was proud to be the defendant in the PhRMA vs. Concannon case, and got a kick out of hearing his name when the case was announced.

“They even pronounced it correctly,” he said. “My oldest son was there. I was proud of that. I wish my mother were still alive. She’d say, ‘you’re taking on who?'”

Bonnie Washuk is the Sun Journal State House reporter.

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