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Health care law looms as issue for high court

WASHINGTON — The nine justices of the Supreme Court, who serve without seeking election, soon will have to decide whether to insert themselves into the center of the presidential campaign next year.

The high court began its new term Monday, and President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which affects almost everyone in the country, is squarely in its sights.

The Obama administration’s request last week that the justices resolve whether the health care law is constitutional makes it more likely than not that they will deliver their verdict by June 2012, just as Obama and his Republican opponent charge toward the fall campaign.

Other high-profile cases on the horizon concern immigration and affirmative action, hot-button issues at any time and only more so in an election year.

Less likely, though still with a chance to make it to the court this year are cases involving gay marriage and the landmark Voting Rights Act that some Southern states argue has outlived its usefulness.

Just over a third of the 48 cases the court has so far agreed to hear are of interest to the business sector, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But that list includes few big-ticket cases, unlike last term’s victories for business interests in major cases seeking to limit consumer and employee access to the courts. Foremost among those was the decision to throw out a class-action lawsuit on behalf of up to 1.6 million female Wal-Mart employees.

The court is beginning its second year with the same complement of justices after consecutive terms of welcoming new members, Sonia Sotomayor and then Elena Kagan.

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