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Obama health care law at Supreme Court: mega case for the history books

US Supreme Court takes up the Obama health-care reform law starting Monday. The case puts the high court center stage in a constitutional showdown that could define the scope of congressional power for generations – and perhaps affect Obama's reelection prospects.

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Jim Elder of West Palm Beach, Fla. (l.), a supporter of health-care reform, argued with an opponent who did not wish to be named after a town-hall meeting in Delray Beach, Fla., in 2009. Florida is one of the states challenging the constitutionality of health-care reform.

Lynne Sladky/AP/File

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When the US Supreme Court begins examining the constitutionality of President Obama's health-care reform law on March 26, there will be more at stake in the unfolding drama than the judicial assessment of Mr. Obama's signature legislative achievement in the White House.

The case thrusts the high court center stage in a historic constitutional showdown that could define the scope of congressional power for generations. It also threatens to draw individual justices into a heated political debate that might hinder or advance the president's own reelection effort.

In an extraordinary six hours of argument over three days, the justices will take up four separate legal issues raised by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, including the most controversial: a mandate that every individual purchase a government-approved level of health insurance or pay a penalty.

Many legal experts initially dismissed as ridiculous the core constitutional challenge being lodged against the health-care reform law, yet the case is now poised to produce a potential landmark decision – regardless of whether the law is upheld or struck down.

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