The Obama administration, for a variety of reasons, wanted the Supreme Court to consider and rule on legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act by next summer. The administration is getting its wish — the high court announced this morning it will hear the case.

The court’s decision … offered a roadmap toward a ruling that will help define the legacy of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Appeals from three courts had been vying for the justices’ attention, presenting an array of issues beyond the central one of whether Congress has the constitutional power to require people to purchase health insurance or face a penalty through the so-called individual mandate.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals from just one decision, from the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, the only one so far striking down the mandate. The decision, from a divided three-judge panel, said the mandate overstepped Congressional authority and could not be justified by the constitutional power “to regulate commerce” or “to lay and collect taxes.”

The appeals court went no further, though, severing the mandate from the rest of the law.

On Monday, the justices agreed to decide not only whether the mandate is constitutional but also whether, if it is not, how much of the balance of the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, must fall along with it.

This morning’s announcement was not unexpected — when appeals courts split on an issue, consideration from the Supreme Court is a near-certainty — but we did know these details about how the case would proceed.

It appears the justices are being quite selective in what they’re prepared to consider on appeal. The high court will consider: the mandate’s constitutionality, the severability of the mandate, Medicaid expansion, and the question of whether or not the mandate is a “tax.”

Justices set aside an extraordinary five-and-a-half hours for oral arguments, which some initial reports suggest is the most time ever set aside for a Supreme Court appeal.

The arguments are expected in March, with a ruling likely to be handed down in June. For more background, Sarah Kliff put together a good FAQ.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.