As the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments this week on the constitutionality of the government mandate that everyone buy health insurance, President Barack Obama's signature health care reform isn't the only thing that will be under scrutiny. The court will be too.
This case has drawn the court more deeply into presidential politics than any other since Bush v. Gore in 2000, when its ruling cleared the way for Republican George W. Bush to become president of the United States.
Like that battle, the dispute over the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is so intensely partisan that whatever the court decides will be dissected to determine whether it is colored by partisanship. The court's reputation as an objective arbiter of the Constitution could take a hit. But tackling the case now instead of after the election is the right thing to do.
No ruling will end the partisan mud wrestling, not with Republican presidential hopefuls pledging to repeal "Obamacare," and the White House sure to fight to preserve it.
With almost 50 million people uninsured and health care costs marching ever upward, the public needs a definitive ruling on the law, preferably one that commands a big enough majority to lay to rest any question of partisanship on the bench.
But whether the court upholds the mandate or scraps it, the decision should shift the nation's focus back to the challenge that matters most: expanding coverage and controlling costs.