Obama court nominee David Hamilton clears Senate hurdle
A Republican effort to stall an Obama appeals court nominee failed Tuesday. A full Senate vote on Judge David Hamilton is set for Wednesday.
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He added, “It is my hope that at some point we could declare a truce. The Hamilton nomination would be a good time to do that.”Skip to next paragraph
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In Hamilton's history, rulings some Republicans dislike
Hamilton has served as a federal judge for 15 years, presiding over more than 8,000 cases. The American Bar Association rates him “highly qualified.”
He is a graduate of Haverford College and Yale Law School. He studied religion as a Fulbright Scholar in Germany. Between stints as a civil litigator in Indianapolis, he served as counsel from 1989 to 1991 to then Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh.
Republican critics have focused on his work, for two months after graduating from college in 1979, as a fundraiser for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Some have also complained that for two years in the 1980s he served as a board member and vice president for litigation at the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.
At the center of the Republican attack are several rulings made by Hamilton as a federal judge. In 2005, he ordered the Indiana House of Representatives to stop opening their legislative sessions with a prayer because the offered prayer was overwhelmingly a Christian prayer and thus violated the Establishment Clause, he said.
In 2001, Hamilton blocked implementation of an Indiana informed consent law that required women to make two trips to an abortion clinic. The first trip was merely informational. The woman would have to return later for the procedure. The judge ruled that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on a woman’s right to abortion. The decision was overturned by the federal appeals court.
Balance of power on appeals courts at stake
The Hamilton nomination fight is about more than filling a vacant seat on the Seventh Circuit. At stake ultimately is the balance of power on several federal courts of appeals between Democratic and Republican appointees.
At the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit, that balance swung in favor of Democratic appointees 6 to 5 last week with the confirmation of Judge Andre Davis to a vacant seat. The Fourth Circuit was long a conservative judicial stronghold, but could now swing sharply to the left with four vacant seats open for Obama appointments.
The Second Circuit in New York is divided between five Republican appointees and four Democratic appointees, with four open seats.
The Philadelphia-based Third Circuit is divided six to six with two open seats.
Overall there are 21 vacancies on the 179-judge federal appeals courts. Including Judge Davis and Hamilton, Obama has nominated nine individuals to vacant appeals court seats so far.
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