msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/14/2011 10:59:07 AM ET 2011-11-14T15:59:07

The Supreme Court said Monday it will hear arguments next March over President Barack Obama's main domestic achievement, health care overhaul, setting up an election year showdown.

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The decision to hear arguments in the spring allows plenty of time for a decision in late June, just over four months before Election Day.

"Earlier this year, the Obama Administration asked the Supreme Court to consider legal challenges to the health reform law and we are pleased the Court has agreed to hear this case," White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement reacting to the court's decision. "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, one million more young Americans have health insurance, women are getting mammograms and preventive services without paying an extra penny out of their own pocket and insurance companies have to spend more of your premiums on health care instead of advertising and bonuses. We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree."

High Court and health reform: A guide

The health care case could be the high court's most significant and political undertaking since the 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore nearly 11 years ago. That ruling effectively sealed George W. Bush's 2000 presidential election victory.

Story: Appeals court upholds Obama health care law

Already, the court has scheduled a remarkable five and a half hours for oral arguments in the case, a date for which has not been set. Indications, though, point toward late February or early March for the historic arguments.

The court will hear two hours' worth of arguments about the so-called "individual mandate," a linchpin of the law which requires individuals to have health insurance or face a penalty. It's this provision which conservatives find most odious; a similar provision was contained in the health care law Mitt Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts.

The court will also evaluate both the provision's constitutionality and whether the overall health care law can still stand even if that provision doesn't.

Other portions of the oral arguments will regard the law's new Medicaid requirements for states, and whether it is even proper for courts to hear challenges to the law, considering its mandates do not take effect until 2014.Republicans have called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional since before Obama signed it into law in March 2010. But federal appeals courts have been split on their assessment.

NBC's Pete Williams contribued to this report.

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