Obama aims to avoid con­tro­versy with his first court pick

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CHRISTINA BEL­LAN­TONI AND STEPHEN DINAN

Pres­i­dent Obama named his first ju­di­cial nom­i­na­tion on March 17, tap­ping a fed­eral district judge from In­di­ana to serve on a Mid­west fed­eral ap­peals court and mak­ing good on his goal of work­ing with se­na­tors to find con­sen­sus picks.

Both In­di­ana se­na­tors praised the nom­i­na­tion of Chief Judge David Hamil­ton of the U.S. District Court for the South­ern District of In­di­ana to serve on the U.S. 7th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals, mean­ing Mr. Obama is un­likely to face a fil­i­buster of his first nom­i­na­tion.

“Judge Hamil­ton has a long and im­pres­sive record of ser­vice and a his­tory of hand­ing down fair and ju­di­cious de­ci­sions,” Mr. Obama said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing the pick for the court, which serves Illi­nois, In­di­ana and Wis­con­sin.

Among Judge Hamil­ton’s note­wor­thy de­ci­sions in his 14 years as a fed­eral district judge were cases in which he doled out stiff prison sen­tences to whitecol­lar crim­i­nals, and an abor­tion case in which he struck down an In­di­ana law that re­quired women to get coun­sel­ing from a doc­tor at least 18 hours be­fore hav­ing an abor­tion.

His rul­ing in the abor­tion case was later over­turned by a di­vided panel of the 7th Cir­cuit — the court Judge Hamil­ton would join, if con­firmed.

The judge, named to the chief spot in Jan­uary 2008, would fill the seat of Judge Kenneth F. Rip­ple, who re­tired.

The Hamil­ton nom­i­na­tion makes good on Mr. Obama’s cam­paign pledge for home-state con­sul­ta­tion, and the sup­port of In­di­ana’s se­na­tors — Richard G. Lu­gar, a Repub­li­can, and Evan Bayh, a Demo­crat — both of whom rec­om­mended Judge Hamil­ton for the post.

It also meets the key test Se­nate Repub­li­cans set up to de­ter­mine whether they would fil­i­buster the Demo­cratic pres­i­dent’s nom­i­nees.

The 41 Repub­li­can se­na­tors re­cently sent a let­ter to the pres­i­dent urg­ing him to work with home-state law­mak­ers and ask­ing him as a show of good faith to renom­i­nate some of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ju­di­cial picks.

When Mr. Bush took of­fice, he nom­i­nated holdovers from Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s ad­min­is­tra­tion — Judges Bar­ring­ton Parker and Roger Gre­gory to the sep­a­rate ap­peals courts.

An ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial would not com­ment on the Repub­li­can se­na­tors’ re­quest, but told The Wash­ing­ton Times that the White House is con­sult­ing with Repub­li­cans — mem­bers of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee and home-state se­na­tors — on fu­ture ju­di­cial nom­i­na­tions.

The of­fi­cial said the pres­i­dent would steadily an­nounce more nom­i­na­tions in the com­ing weeks when the pres­i­dent is con­fi­dent they are ready to serve, the of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause Mr. Obama has not yet made the nom­i­na­tions.

Judge Hamil­ton’s nom­i­na­tion comes less than two months into the ad­min­is­tra­tion, mean­ing Mr. Obama is mov­ing at a faster clip than Mr. Bush.

Sen. Pa­trick J. Leahy, Ver­mont Demo­crat and chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, called the process a “healthy change” from the past.

Kathryn Kol­bert, pres­i­dent of the lib­eral group Peo­ple for the Amer­i­can Way, called Judge Hamil­ton an “ideal choice” who has “demon­strated a will­ing­ness to put prin­ci­ple ahead of pol­i­tics and bring an open mind to ev­ery case.”

Wendy Long, coun­sel for the Ju­di­cial Con­fir­ma­tion Net­work, la­beled Judge Hamil­ton a “hardleft po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist,” not­ing his work with the In­di­ana ACLU and sug­gest­ing he had an af­fil­i­a­tion with the com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing group ACORN.

“Af­ter col­lege as a young man, he served one month as a can­vasser for ACORN, help­ing them raise money door to door.

Judge Hamil­ton had been a part­ner at a pri­vate Indianapolis firm and was coun­sel for Mr. Bayh, who was then gov­er­nor.

“Pres­i­dent Obama is right that Democrats and Repub­li­cans can work to­gether to put highly qual­i­fied ju­rists on the fed­eral bench,” Mr. Bayh said in a state­ment, adding the process has be­come too par­ti­san in re­cent years.

White House press sec­re­tary Robert Gibbs out­lined the pres­i­dent’s phi­los­o­phy on choos­ing judges.

“A wide va­ri­ety of past ex­pe­ri­ence and hav­ing the abil­ity to em­pathize and walk in some­one’s shoes pro­vides valu­able per­spec­tive for some­body mak­ing im­por­tant de­ci­sions from the bench,” he said.

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