Three judges appointed to the bench by Democratic presidents will hear the first appellate arguments that the requirement for Americans to buy insurance is constitutional. But they will not be the final arbiter in a fight that is expected to reach the Supreme Court.
So far, trial court decisions on the law have broken along party lines, with judges appointed by Republican presidents ruling against the law and Democratic-appointed judges ruling in favor of it.
The U.S. appeals judges in Virginia assigned to review the cases are Diana Gribbon Motz, Andre Davis and James Wynn Jr. Davis and Wynn were appointed to the appeals court in Richmond, Virginia by President Barack Obama. Motz was appointed by President Bill Clinton.
The Justice Department will seek today to persuade the judges that Obama’s health-care overhaul, which mandates most Americans obtain insurance, is constitutional. In back-to-back arguments, the panel will review two rulings -- one upholding the law and the other striking down part of it.
“The fact that the government is sending the solicitor general of the United States to argue the case does reflect how important the government considers this case to be,” said Lisa Blatt, an appeals lawyer at Arnold & Porter LLP in Washington. The U.S. solicitor general usually argues cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. calls the insurance mandate the linchpin of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, claiming that, without expanding the pool of younger, healthier customers, the insurance industry won’t be able to meet its obligations for coverage under the law. Absent the mandate, the health-insurance market will wither, the government said in court papers.
The arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond may preview two other cases to be heard early next month in federal appeals courts in Cincinnati and Atlanta. Decisions by the three panels, especially if their rulings differ, may set the stage for “the ultimate argument” before the Supreme Court, said Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill.
The Virginia appeals stem from a challenge to the law by the state of Virginia and another by Liberty University, a Christian school founded in Lynchburg, Virginia, by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell.
The cases were assigned randomly to the three judges, whose identities were made public this morning.