WASHINGTON (CN) – The Obama administration’s judicial nominee to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, David Frank Hamilton, is the son of a Methodist minister who as a District Court judge ruled that the Indiana House violated the Constitution with its daily invocation of Jesus Christ to begin legislative sessions.
His nomination, which caused an initial Republican boycott, is scheduled for a final hearing Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee before a full vote in the Senate. see questionnaire
Hamilton’s road to the powerful, Chicago-based 7th Circuit has been bumpy. Republicans complained that Democrats are trying to rush the nomination process and refused to attend the initial hearing for the nominee, which came 15 days after President Barack Obama named him on March 17th.
Republicans also temporarily blocked committee action while labeling the nominee “controversial” for his rulings on the division of church and state.
The ruling that has caused the most comment is a 2005 decision finding that the Indiana House violated the Constitution when it invoked Jesus Christ on a daily basis. He said the prayer showed preference for a particular religion and he prohibited the legislature from beginning its sessions with Christian prayer. That ruling was later reversed by the 7th Circuit.
At a hearing on the nomination of Hamilton, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Hamilton “controversial.”
“Our members are concerned about this nominee,” he said, noting in particular the ruling on prayers in the Indiana legislature.
On another hot-button issue, Hamilton in 2003 struck down a rule that required clinics to offer alternatives 18 hours before an abortion to women seeking the procedure.
In a later 2008 ruling, Hamilton declared as unconstitutional a rule that would have let authorities search at any time the home computers of sexual offenders, and that would have made the criminals pay for a program that monitors their internet use. It would also have required sex offenders to give the authorities personal information such as email addresses and usernames.
“The ability of the individual to retreat into his home and therefore to be free from unreasonable intrusion by the government stands at the very core” of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches, said Hamilton’s ruling.
In a phone interview, Russell Wheeler, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington described Hamilton as “mainstream”. “Hamilton doesn’t have a record of an awful lot of reversals,” he said. “He’s not an out of control district judge.”
Wheeler said that despite the objections of some Republicans, he would be very surprised if Hamilton is not confirmed.
Born in 1957 in Bloomington Indiana, Hamilton grew up in Indianapolis where his father worked as a pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Hamilton’s mother was a soloist in the choir.
He earned his B.A. from Haverford College in 1979, and went on to earn his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1983. He later attended the University of Tübingen, in Germany, as a Fulbright scholar.
Hamilton began his work that same year as a law clerk for Richard Cudahy, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge on the 7th Circuit, but in 1984 went into private practice as a lawyer with Barnes & Thornburg and became a counsel to the Indiana governor in 1989.
Hamilton also served as a board member of the Indiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Despite an ABA rating of not qualified at the time, Hamilton was successfully nominated to be a U.S. District Court Judge of the Southern District of Indiana in 1994 by then President Bill Clinton and has served as Chief Judge since 2008.
For Hamilton’s nomination to the Court of Appeals, however, the American Bar Association listed Hamilton as well qualified. To read a host of Hamilton opinions, go to http://www.insd.uscourts.gov, click on “case information” and then on “recent court opinions,” and search under “Hamilton.”
The ABA is not alone in its approval. Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar enthusiastically endorsed Hamilton to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on Hamilton’s nomination.
“I have tried to evaluate judicial candidates on whether they have the requisite intellect, experience, character and temperament that Americans deserve from their judges, and also on whether they indeed appreciate 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,” he said. “I support Judge Hamilton’s nomination, and do so enthusiastically, because he is superbly qualified under both sets of criteria.”