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Justice Department move could put ruling on health law in thick of campaign

By NBC's Pete Williams

A legal move Monday by the Obama administration greatly increases the odds that the US Supreme Court will take up the contentious issue of the new health care law during the court term that starts next week. 

And if it does, that would mean a ruling from the Supreme Court by next spring -- as the presidential campaign is well underway.

The Justice Department had to decide what to do about the highest profile decision yet on the constitutionality of the law's requirement that virtually all Americans buy health insurance.  Acting in a lawsuit filed by 26 states, a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled last month that Congress went too far in passing the law.

The government could have asked the full Atlanta appeals court to re-hear the case, which would have meant a further delay. But today, the Justice Department told the appeals court it will not seek that re-hearing.  That means the Obama administration plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court directly.  Most legal experts agree that the Supreme Court would almost certainly grant that request, even though other appeals courts are still hearing legal challenges to the health care law.