WASHINGTON—If you wanted to be the last to learn how the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, the steps of the court were a pretty good place to be.
While many Americans were glued to their television screens, or watching the live updates on SCOTUSblog when the decision to uphold the law came down, hundreds of conservative and liberal demonstrators gathered outside the court along First Street Northeast, where mass confusion reigned on a sweltering day.
[Have questions about today's Supreme Court ruling upholding the health care individual mandate? Read our discussion with Yahoo readers. ]
Facing the court, liberal demonstrators filled the left side of the steps, anti-abortion protesters gathered in the middle and tea partiers waving yellow Gadsden flags chanted on the right. Tourists and onlookers stood in front of the building on both sides of the street. Near the center of the court's marble steps, pastors knelt on black pads with Bibles open on the ground as they prayed for the law to be struck down. Belly dancers wearing red and gold traditional garb grooved in front of a sign that read, "Single Payer Now" accompanied by the beat of a drum and a snake charmer flute. As temperatures crept into the 90s and the crowds grew, interns wearing cheap black suits with all three buttons fastened rolled up their sleeves as sweat poured down their temples.
As the clock inched toward 10 a.m., the crowd began to spill onto the street and police ordered people back on the sidewalk, where everyone jammed together in a tight, sweaty mess. Friends lost each other in the hustle. "I am so sorry I gave you the wrong address and you ended up in the hood!" a young woman yelled to a friend into her cell phone.
In the background, the liberal groups blasted funky jams over a loudspeaker. At this point, the court's ruling was still a mystery, but protestors on both sides danced with confidence that the justices would come out in their favor.
Moments before the announcement, members of Congress gently pushed their way through the chanting crowds to position themselves near the microphones set up by the steps.
Shortly after 10, a ripple spread through the conservative section of the crowd.
"Mandate struck down! Mandate struck down! Mandate struck down!" people shouted, passing the news along like a game of telephone. But while they said it, the liberal protesters on the left side of the steps began to cheer.
As we know now, the mandate was not, in fact, struck down. The rumor was based on an incorrect CNN report that was repeated on Twitter and caused mass confusion in front of the court.
While the confused masses tapped on their phones for answers, the conservatives got to the microphones first and broke the news: The court had actually determined that the individual mandate would be considered a "tax," and was therefore constitutional. Obamacare, they said, was upheld.
The demonstrators on the left side of the steps broke out into celebration. Reporters turned back to their smartphones to confirm the news, but service was jammed, slowing everyone's connection. Suddenly, a Huffington Post reporter's phone kicked in. "It survived! It survived!" she shouted, hugging liberal protesters around her.
Those on the other side, as realization settled in, were despondent but fired up.
"I feel sick to my stomach," one of the speakers said over the loudspeaker.
"This is our worst nightmare," said Lisa Miller, a member of the Washington, D.C., tea party.
Over the loudspeaker, a speaker mentioned the name of Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservative appointed by former President George W. Bush who sided with the liberal wing of the court to uphold the mandate.
"Rot in hell!" a woman near the back yelled, clutching an American flag.