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Preparing for SCOTUS

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The long-awaited decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (which we here, in Your Nation's Capital, refer to as SCOTUS) on Obamacare is due to be handed down this week.

Some say Monday. Some say Thursday. Chief Justice, a couple of clerks and the guy who converts the decisions into PDF files probably know which day, but they're not talking.

Every organization in Washington - public, private, business association, union, Left Wing, Right Wing … you name the type of group, and I guarantee they spent last week and most of this weekend getting ready for the decision.

Problem is: You don't know how the Justices will have ruled on the total bill or portions of the bill, so you have to be ready for as many permutations and combinations as possible.

The basic unit of currency in these matters is The Statement - the official position of organization is publishing it.

Back in June, 2008 when I was working for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) we were faced with a similar problem in what was known as the "Heller Decision."

This was the case that the Supreme Court accepted to decide whether local jurisdictions - in this case the District of Columbia - could have gun control laws which essentially over ruled the 2nd Amendment:

"A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Twenty-six words that have generated the creation of billions of words (and the expenditure of billions of dollars) in trying to clarify.

According to the Washington Post's reporting of the Heller Case, the Supreme Court:

"decided for the first time in the nation's history that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to own a gun for self-defense."

Senator Hutchison had become the lead Senator on the side of protecting 2nd Amendment rights but we didn't know how the Court was going to rule so we had to come up with a plan.

Hutchison's press secretary at the time, Matt Mackowiak managed the process which included writing and getting approved two statements - one if the Court ruled our way and one if it didn't.

What we didn't want to have happen was to have the decision released and then start trying to draft a statement.

We had the legal staff edit the statements to make certain they were on point, and they were also standby to race through the decision to make sure the statements made sense after the Court actually ruled.

The statements went through the staff vetting process, including Chief of Staff, Marc Short and the Legislative shop led by Matt Acock. When they were satisfied, the statements went to the Senator for her approval. This was late in the week before the Supreme Court was due to recess for the Summer but, as with Obamacare, we didn't know which day in that week Heller would be published.

While all that was going on, the Comms Staff went on a field trip to the Supreme Court building (just a block away from the Russell Senate Office Building) to decide if it made sense to bring the Senator on-site to deliver her statement and if so, where the best location would be.

We had a series of conference calls with the directors of the District offices throughout Texas so they knew what we were doing in Washington and could reach out to the appropriate people in their areas with copies of the statement as soon as the Court ruled.

When we were satisfied that Mackowiak's team had everything ready to go we did a walk-through with Senator Hutchison - everything but the field trip - so that when, on the next Thursday morning when the Heller Decision was handed down, all we had to do was flip the switch.

When the decision was announced, Marc Short acted like NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz asking for final approvals from each of the department heads before an Apollo launch.

SCOTUS had ruled our way so the first thing we did was make sure all paper copies of the statement we were not going to use were destroyed so there was no way it could get to the Senate Press Gallery by mistake.

We sent a couple of Comms folks to the Supreme Court building to "help" the media set up at the approximate location we had advanced the week before, and to report back on what media (and what other pro- and con-Heller spokespeople) were there.

The Legislative and Legal folks read through the decision and gave their blessing to the language in the statement so Matt Mackowiak, who is nearly as fast a writer as I am, cranked out a press release that quoted from the statement.

The junior members of the press shop commandeered every copy machine in the office to make enough copies of the statement we were going to use for distribution to the Galleries and to take to the Supreme Court Building with the Senator.

The Senator's scheduling operation cleared space for her to go to the Supreme Court. We walked over, she did her stand-ups, the staff handed out the statements, the Texas staff did their thing and the operation worked exactly as we had planned it.

The statement began:

"Today's ruling is a major victory for the rights of all Americans to protect themselves and their families. The Supreme Court sent a clear message to local, state, and federal governments that this individual right cannot be unreasonably infringed."

That's how you prepare for a Supreme Court Decision.

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