Twitter unhappy over Justice Kennedy’s outsized influence in health care arguments

Ana-Maria Popescu & Marco Pennacchiotti
The SignalMarch 28, 2012

As the Supreme Court concludes oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act, we're tuning our Twitter Machine to health care subjects to see what's striking a nerve in social media outlets.

On Tuesday, our trend detection software turned up significant interest in Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely perceived to be the swing vote on the politically divided court. We also saw Justice Antonin Scalia and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who is arguing the Obama administration's side of the case. (There was less volume for his counterpart, Paul Clement.)

Analyst Jeffrey Toobin set the tone of the reaction to Kennedy's often skeptical questioning of Verrilli in a tweet that was widely distributed:

@JeffreyToobin: Train wreck for @barackobama in #supremecourt today.

The Y! Labs technology for identifying top tweets revealed a mix of tweets around Kennedy detailing the nature of his questions and lamenting his enormous influence on the outcome of the debate:

@RBReich : Democracy? Anthony Kennedy decides if 30m Ams get health care. Bernanke decides how many Ams have jobs. Congress decides nothing.

@Mengus22: It's amazing that Anthony Kennedy is basically the king of America.

@DavidShuster: Awful tea leaves at Supreme Court for defenders of Obama Health care. Swing justice Anthony Kennedy extremely critical of govt mandate.

@MacFarlaneCOXTV: Justice Anthony Kennedy says "heavy burden" under Constitution for such an "unprecedented" idea of forcing people to buy insurance

Matching the general response in the media, our sentiment analysis tool found a 4-to-1 unfavorable-to-favorable ratio in the reaction to Verrilli's performance on the administration's behalf. For example:


@philipaklein: At the start, Verrilli stammered like a dorky guy in an '80s movie trying to ask out the hottest chick in class.

@standupkid: CNN's @jeffreytoobin says Solicitor Gen Verrilli performed poorly answering conservative justices' questions. "I think he was just nervous."

@brooksbayne: @motherjones calls verrilli's obamacare argument its "eulogy": Obamacare's Supreme Court Disaster #tcot #p2


@matthewamiller: Ugly herd mentality to the Verrilli pile-on. One of the smartest people I've ever met. Worth waiting for the outcome to pass judgment.

@Notash_Ariani: Verrilli's Courage Under Fire

By contrast, the Twitter reaction to Clement's performance for the opposition was overwhelmingly positive, with a 9-to-1 favorable-to-unfavorable ratio:


@SCOTUSblog:   Update: Paul Clement gave the best argument I've ever heard. No real hard questions from the right. Mandate is in trouble.

@RBPundit: I hope that history books one day note that Paul Clement saved our Constitution. That is my sincerest hope right now.

@amandacarpenter: Obama's former solicitor general called Paul Clement "the best lawyer of his generation..if he can't win a case, no one can."


@amaeryllis: Very disappointing to remember that Paul Clement defends DOMA, and resigned as a partner from his BigLaw firm over it.

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