President Obama’s first judicial nominee and Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton’s nephew, Judge David Hamilton was confirmed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by a 59-39 vote yesterday following five-and-a-half months of filibustering by Senate Republicans.
“This is a nomination that should be confirmed and should have been confirmed months ago,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in a statement. “David Hamilton is a fine judge and will make a good addition to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.”
Hamilton, who was President Barack Obama’s first judicial nominee, came under Republican fire for several rulings he made in Indiana, from barring certain prayers in the state legislature to a ruling stating that abortion clinics should not be required to provide information on alternatives to abortion.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Monday he sought to block Hamilton’s nomination because he believed the judge was extreme and would add “footnotes to the Constitution.”
Lugar, however, refuted GOP sentiment in a floor statement Monday on Hamilton’s behalf, saying that the judge appreciated “the vital, and yet vitally limited, role of the federal judiciary faithfully to interpret and apply our laws, rather than seeking to impose their own policy views.”
Judge Hamilton will be leaving the U. S. District Court for Indiana’s Southern district where he has served since 1994. He is a native of Bloomington, Indiana and once served as legal counsel in Governor Evan Bayh’s administration from 1989 to 1991.
The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette offers this in a wise editorial entitled Hamilton Qualified to Judge:
The effort to block the nomination of Hamilton to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago had little to do with qualifications and ability. Instead, the filibuster was because of the opponents’ partisanship, conservative ideology and hopes of slowing President Obama’s efforts to fill desperately needed federal judgeships. It is no coincidence that Hamilton was Obama’s first nominee to the court of appeals.
As with any other judge who has issued hundreds of rulings, opponents will be able to find language from Hamilton they claim supports a bias.
But make no mistake, the ultraconservative wing of the party focused on Hamilton because of two rulings on their hot-button issues and because they want to hurt Obama wherever they can.
In one ruling, Hamilton prohibited Indiana from enforcing one part of an abortion-consent law that required patients to twice receive information in person about abortions, causing unnecessary travel. In the other, Hamilton upheld a lawsuit challenging the form of prayer in the Indiana House.
Rather than permit mischaracterizations and outright falsehoods about the rulings, Lugar placed them in the proper context. Opponents criticized Hamilton for blocking the abortion law for seven years, but Lugar pointed out that much of the delay was because of Indiana government lawyers’ tactics. And Hamilton did not forbid prayer in the legislature; he upheld complaints that some prayers in the House were not simply to God but to advance one form of religion over others.
Opponents gleefully note that in both cases, Hamilton was overturned by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago – the court on which Obama has nominated Hamilton to serve. What opponents do not point out is that both rulings were less-than-unanimous 2-1 decisions. All four of the judges who overruled him were conservative appointees of President Reagan.