The White House's decision to seek a quick ruling on President Obama's landmark health care law will inject the controversial issue back into the nation's political bloodstream at the height of the 2012 presidential campaign.
The administration acceded to what had become a legal inevitability and welcomed a swift and final review of the law by the Supreme Court. But the political impact of the court's ruling next year may be just as significant.
AdvertisementThe White House's decision means that the court is now almost certain to take up one or more of the cases involving a challenge to the health care law. It would then probably announce its decision in June, just weeks before the two political parties gather for their national nominating conventions and at the beginning of a final, intense dash to Election Day.
In practical terms, the court's decision - whichever way the justices decide - will set the stage for health care to once again become a dominant political issue in the presidential campaign and in the many Congressional contests around the country.
What is less obvious is how the two political parties would benefit or lose from a Supreme Court ruling.
• The court could decide to uphold the law completely, rejecting the claims by conservatives that the mandate requiring individuals to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.
Such a flat-out victory for Mr. Obama and his team would almost certainly become a new and angry rallying cry for Tea Party groups and other conservatives, who would argue that the only way to assure an end to what they call Obama Care would be at the ballot box.
• The court could strike down the health care law, in part, or as requested by some business and conservative groups in total.
Such a ruling would no doubt fire up Mr. Obama's liberal base, which could use the ruling as motivation to push even harder for victory in the election. Given what is generally recognized as the lackluster energy among liberals, that would be a clear positive for the president.
It would mean that the president and his Democratic rivals would be pressured to come up with an alternative solution to the dilemmas of spiraling health care costs and how to cover the uninsured.
• The court could also punt, using legal technicalities to defer a substantive decision on the merits of the case to a later time.
If that happens, the health care law could recede a bit, becoming just one more in a series of important issues that will be debated by the candidates.