WASHINGTON — Judges for an appeals court appeared sympathetic Friday to the Federal Reserve Board's defense of its rule capping interchange fees on debit cards, fueling hopes by bankers that the agency will beat back a legal challenge.

Retailers filed suit against the central bank's rule in November 2011, claiming that the fee set by the Fed — roughly 21 cents per transaction — was far higher than what Congress intended. In July of last year, a U.S. district court agreed with merchants that the Fed was too flexible in setting the limit for so-called swipe fees.

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