The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next March over the Affordable Care Act, the main issue being the constitutionality of the requirement that individuals buy health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty.

The Court says it will set aside an extraordinary five-and-a-half hours for arguments by lawyers. The last time the Court allocated anywhere near this amount of time for arguments was for consideration of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform in 2003.

In addition to deciding whether the central mandate is constitutional, the Court will decide whether the rest of the law should take effect even if the mandate is unconstitutional. The Court will also consider whether review of the case is premature. A federal law prohibits challenges to taxes until the taxes are actually paid, and the penalty for not buying health insurance will not be paid until federal income taxes are due in April 2015.

Only one of the four federal appeals courts that have considered the healthcare overhaul has struck down even a part of it. Justices Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan have both been asked by advocacy groups to withdraw from the case, but apparently are going to take part. Justice Thomas' wife works for a group that has advocated against healthcare reform and Justice Kagan was solicitor general in the Obama administration when the law was being drafted.

The Court's March hearing allows time for a decision by June, just over four months before Election Day.

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