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US Supreme Court opens, likely to wade into health care debate

It seems inevitable that the US Supreme Court will agree to hear the legal challenge to President Obama’s health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act. As the court opens Monday, gun laws, immigration, racial preferences, and separation of church and state loom as major issues as well.

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President Barack Obama signs the health care bill in March, 2010. The US Supreme Court soon will have to decide whether to insert itself into the nation’s presidential campaign. The high court begins its new term Monday, and Obama’s health care overhaul, which affects almost every American, is squarely in its sights.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File

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The 2011-2012 US Supreme Court term, set to begin Monday, is best described by a case that isn’t even on the docket yet.

It now seems inevitable that the justices will agree to hear the legal challenge to President Obama’s health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act.

The case, HHS v. Florida, would instantly transform the high court’s upcoming nine-month session from an interesting and important collection of legal disputes into an historic constitutional showdown with major political implications – in a presidential election year.

The legal challenge threatens one of President Obama’s most ambitious accomplishments, the attempted wholesale reformation of the health care insurance market to extend health insurance to millions of Americans who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

Usually, the Supreme Court’s term is defined on the eve of the first Monday in October by the array of cases the justices have already agreed to hear and decide.

The unusual feature of the start of this year’s term is that the “Obamacare” case isn’t the only blockbuster looming on the high court’s horizon. In the weeks ahead, the justices are set to consider taking up a string of other potential landmark cases that could further transform the new term into a clash of constitutional titans. They include disputes examining:

• Whether the Second Amendment protects a right to carry a gun in public places for self-defense.

• Whether the use of racial preferences in university admissions programs is unconstitutional.

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