RICHMOND, Va. - The Obama administration received a generally friendly hearing Tuesday from a panel of three Democratic appointees for its first appeals-court defense of the national health care law.
Two of the three judges - Andre Davis and James Wynn Jr. - were Obama appointees, and the third, Judge Diana Motz, was a Clinton appointee. The panels are chosen randomly by computer.
Lawyers for Virginia struggled to explain how the state had the legal standing to challenge the health care mandate on behalf of its citizens. The judges said precedent did not permit states to sue on behalf of their citizens to contest federal laws.
But standing was not a problem in a second case, where lawyers for Liberty University sued on behalf of several individuals. Both lawsuits said a requirement in the new law that everyone purchase health care was a violation of the Constitution.
Acting U.S. Solicitor Gen. Neal Katyal, representing the administration, said the requirement to buy health insurance was "necessary and proper" under the clause in the Constitution allowing Congress to regulate interstate commerce because virtually all Americans use health care at some time in their lives.
This year, a federal judge in Richmond struck down the health care mandate as unconstitutional in the case brought by Virginia.
By their comments, members of the panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sounded as though they would reverse that decision and say Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had no standing to challenge the law.
Liberty University lost its lawsuit in federal District Court and appealed to the 4th Circuit. Mathew Staver, the school's lawyer, said Congress could regulate commerce but not "idleness." In this instance, he referred to the refusal of his clients to purchase health insurance.
But the judges didn't sound persuaded. They noted that the Supreme Court had said Congress had broad power to regulate a national market and that the mandate was an attempt to regulate insurance. It is a "practical power," Davis said, to regulate effectively.
Two other U.S. appeals courts will hear challenges to the health care law in the next month.