The final countdown has begun for the landmark decision on President Obama’s healthcare law.
The justices will render judgment on the controversial law on Thursday, ending months of speculation about a ruling that could have far-reaching implications for the 2012 election and beyond.
The ruling will come shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday, at the end of an action-packed week for lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Anticipation grew over the weekend that the Supreme Court would issue the healthcare decision on Monday morning. Instead, the court ruled in the high-profile Arizona immigration case, while announcing that the remaining decisions for the term — including the health case, Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services — would not be issued until Thursday.
The three-day deferral left Washington in a state of nervous anticipation for the ruling, which will have election-year ramifications for Democrats and Republicans alike. Congressional offices have been preparing their responses for months, though no one outside the court knows what fate awaits Obama’s signature law.
“We’re keeping a close eye on it. Absolutely. We’re having a war room every day — every Monday and Thursday,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) recently told The Hill.
The wealth of possible outcomes means that outside groups have also taken pains to prepare.
The pro-reform group Families USA, for example, already has eight statements pre-written about the decision. The advocacy group is hoping that one will match the final conclusion and enable the group to respond immediately.
By some estimates, between 50 and 100 people at or associated with the court already know the outcome in the healthcare case.
The court's customary practice is to meet in a private conference following oral arguments, discuss the case in order of seniority, then take an initial vote on how to rule — meaning the nine justices and their clerks have probably known the decision since the oral arguments in March.
But the court is a master of keeping decisions under lock and key, and hasn’t suffered a leak for ahead of a scheduled announcement for decades.
On Monday, the court did rule on one major case — striking down three out of four provisions of Arizona's controversial immigration law.
According to SCOTUSblog, journalists in the court chambers Monday knew no healthcare decision was imminent after a comment from Chief Justice John Roberts.
"Justice [Anthony] Kennedy has our second and final decision of the day, in Arizona v. United States," Roberts reportedly said.
At that point, nearly 90,000 people were watching SCOTUSblog, a specialized site that has become the go-to resource for court-watchers in Washington.
Since Kennedy authored the majority opinion in the Arizona case, Roberts will “almost certainly” be the author of the majority opinion on healthcare reform, according to SCOTUSblog.
— This story was first posted at 10:22 a.m. and was last updated at 12:34 p.m.