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The justices turned down a request by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a leading opponent of the law, to resolve questions about its constitutionality quickly. The Obama administration opposed Cuccinelli's plea.
Only rarely, in wartime or a constitutional crisis, does the court step into a legal fight before the issues are aired in appellate courts. Hearings already are scheduled in May and June in three appeals courts.
The case still could reach the high court in time for a decision by early summer 2012.
Cuccinelli said he asked for speedy review to end "crippling and costly uncertainty" about the law.
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