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As US Supreme Court opens, all eyes on Chief Justice John Roberts

The US Supreme Court opens its 2012-13 term Monday with Justice Anthony Kennedy again the likely swing vote. But given his vote on the Affordable Care Act, Chief Justice John Roberts may not be predictably conservative either.

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Workers cover the US Supreme Court building in Washington with a protective scrim, as work continues on the facade. The Supreme Court is embarking on a new term beginning Monday that could be as consequential as the last one with the prospect for major rulings about affirmative action, gay marriage, and voting rights.

Alex Brandon/AP

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The US Supreme Court begins its 2012-13 term on Monday with a blunt question: Which version of Chief Justice John Roberts will show up at the high court this year?

Will it be the hard-charging conservative who struck down election-season speech restrictions on corporations in the 2010 Citizens United decision, and who invalidated racial preferences in public schools in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., in 2007?

Or will it be the circumspect judicial minimalist who guided the high court away from overturning a major provision of the Voting Rights Act in a 2009 Texas case, and who last June voted with the court’s liberal wing to prevent the election-year invalidation of President Obama’s health-care reform law?

The chief justice is expected to have ample opportunity in the new term to become reacquainted with his conservative colleagues in potential blockbuster cases involving affirmative action, voting rights, and gay marriage.

The question is, will he?

How much do you know about the US Constitution? A quiz.

Legal analysts suggest Chief Justice Roberts has earned a degree of goodwill from would-be liberal critics in the wake of his surprising vote to uphold the health-care law. Some scholars praised the chief justice’s acrobatic decision as a modern-day version of Marbury v. Madison.

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