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Federal appeals court appears likely to uphold health care law

Caduseus over United States Constitution
Caduseus over United States Constitution CBS

The Obama Administration got a huge break in the Richmond-based federal appeals court that will hear Virginia's challenge to the health care reform law later this morning.

Although the full court is evenly split between Republican and Democratic appointees, the three-judge panel that will hear the case today (chosen randomly by computer) is entirely Democratic. Two of the judges are Obama appointees, and one is a Clinton appointee.

Va. appeals court hears health care challenge

That means it's highly likely this court will uphold the health care law, because the rulings in the lower courts have closely tracked the judges' judicial ideology. Conservatives have struck down the law; liberal judges have upheld it.

Of course, health care is eventually expected to be resolved by the Supreme Court (and swing vote Anthony Kennedy). The Virginia attorney general will take this case straight there next.

In many ways though, today's developments in Virginia make the BIG challenge to the health care reform law, coming out of Florida with more than half of the states on board, even more significant.

That challenge will be heard next month in an Atlanta-based federal appeals court. With the Virginia case now seeming like a slam dunk for the administration, opponents will need a good opinion (either a majority or dissent from a respected judge) out of the 11th Circuit as this issue goes into the Supreme Court.

Not only will that increase the chances the Court will actually take this case, but it also would give moderates like Kennedy more comfort if they are leaning toward striking down this law.