The political deck got a powerful new joker this week as the Supreme Court announced it will hear a challenge next year to the new-health care law, with a decision coming in late June.

Putting aside one’s opinions of the law or the legal merits of the arguments which center on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, how will this play politically?

In some ways, both sides could be hoping for a loss. A ruling against Obamacare would stoke the Democratic base; a decision affirming the mandate would do the same for the Tea Party, which came to prominence in opposition to the bill.

On balance, however, a decision to strike the mandate and perhaps other features of the law would benefit Democrats more. Their base is dispirited, and such a decision will reinvigorate it. Republican voters are already high on the intensity scale and, if the court neuters Obama’s health plan, one of their main electoral rallying cries gets muted.

Finally, it is interesting that the Supreme Court is once again willing to step into the middle of an issue that bitterly divides the country and would undoubtedly be decided at the ballot box next November anyway. But then there is precedent for that in Bush v. Gore. (Couldn’t resist)