Appeals court in Richmond hears healthcare reform arguments

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Richmond again took center stage in the debate over national health care reform.

Virginia, led by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, already won a ruling in U.S. District Court in Richmond that the "individual mandate"' requiring people to buy health insurance is unconstitutional. But the United States appealed that decision Tuesday, creating quite a scene both inside the courtroom and out.

It was a sidewalk news conference. A gathering big enough that one driver blamed it for creating a distraction, and this car crash on Main Street. Those standing nearby in support of healthcare reform took notice.

"Health is a very funny thing. One day you can be in the best of health, and then suddenly you can be lying in a hospital bed," said UVA student Larry Kim, who spoke in favor of healthcare reform.

Kim and fellow supporters say the Obama administration's healthcare overhaul is providing opportunities they never had before. But the other side says the government shouldn't be telling people what to do.

"Really, we're standing up for the Constitution of our great country, and we're standing up for the American  people's rights," said Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity.

So the matter was once again back in court. Three judges -two of whom were appointed by President Obama- peppered both sides with nearly non-stop questions.

Virginia argued that government can't make people buy health insurance, as it plans to do in 2014.

"Then we will have given the government the power to force us to buy other private products such as cars, gym  memberships, or today's chosen vegetable of discussion: broccoli," said Cuccinelli, a republican.

Cuccinelli, however, was unfazed by the makeup of the panel, which was selected at random, by computer.

"I would say these judges were aggressive with both sides," Cuccinelli said.

Attorneys for the United States later argued that Virginia lacks standing to challenge federal law. It all amounts to the final dress rehearsal for what's expected to be a Washington, D.C. showdown.

Both sides agree that no matter what the appeals court decides, the case will eventually be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. But first, the appeals court will issue a ruling, perhaps as early as next month.

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