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 begins 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.
Already, GOP presidential contenders use virtually every debate and speech to assail Obama's major domestic accomplishment, which aims to extend health insurance to more than 30 million people now without coverage.
If as expected the justices agree to review the law's constitutionality, those deliberations would define the court's coming term. The decision could rank as the court's most significant since the December 2000 ruling that effectively sealed George W. Bush's election as president.
Health care is one of several issues the court could hear. Other high-profile cases concern immigration and affirmative action.
Decisions about whether to even to consider health care, affirmative action and immigration are a month off or more.
In the meantime, the justices will take up a First Amendment case looking at the regulation of television broadcasts as well as a couple of appeals involving the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. One of those cases is a digital age dispute over the government's power to track a suspect's movement using a GPS device, without first getting a judge's approval.
Among the cases involving criminal defendants is one from an inmate awaiting execution in Alabama who missed a deadline to appeal his death sentence because the big-firm lawyers in New York who had been handling his case for free moved on to new jobs and letters from the court clerk sat in the firm's mailroom before being returned to sender.