Court schedules week of health care arguments

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The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will use an unprecedented week's worth of argument time in late March to decide the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul before the 2012 presidential elections.

The high court scheduled arguments for March 26th, 27th and 28th over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which aims to provide health insurance to more than 30 million previously uninsured Americans. The arguments fill the entire court calendar that week with nothing but debate over Obama's signature domestic health care achievement.

With the March dates set, it means a final decision on the massive health care overhaul will likely come before Independence Day in the middle of Obama's re-election campaign. The new law has been vigorously opposed by all of Obama's prospective GOP opponents. Republicans have branded the law unconstitutional since before Obama signed it in a March 2010 ceremony.

In an extraordinary move, the justices are hearing more than five hours of arguments over the health care overhaul. In the modern era, the last time the court increased that time anywhere near this much was in 2003 for consideration of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul. That case consumed four hours of argument.

The Supreme Court will start the week of arguments that Monday with one hour on whether court action is premature because no one yet has paid a fine for not participating in the overhaul.

Federal law generally prohibits challenges to taxes until they are paid. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled earlier this year that the penalty for not purchasing insurance will not be paid before federal income tax returns are due in April 2015, therefore it is too early for a court ruling.

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