It's a pretty fair bet that one of the touchstone moments of 2012 will be the looming debate over health care that will play out at the U.S. Supreme Court. Perhaps no other event will have greater social consequence while shaping the race for the White House.
Partisans have already asked that two of the justices on the high court recuse themselves from the case. Republicans want Justice Elena Kagan to step aside because of her work as solicitor general for the Obama White House. Democrats want Justice Clarence Thomas off the case because his wife has publicly criticized what her colleagues call "Obamacare."
In a year-end report, Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed both efforts, saying he had "complete confidence" that there are no personal interests that conflict with his colleagues' ability to hear the case.
"I have complete confidence in the capability of my colleagues to determine when recusal is warranted," wrote Roberts. "They are jurists of exceptional integrity and experience whose character and fitness have been examined through a rigorous apointment and confirmation process. I know that they each give careful consideration to any recusal questions that arise in the course of their judicial duties."
Arguments over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act are scheduled for March. Oral arguments are expected to be limited to 5-1/2 hours.