Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) isn’t saying yet whether he will support Judge David Hamilton’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
Hatch told reporters today that there are “a lot of concerns” about Hamilton, whom President Barack Obama announced Tuesday as his first nominee to the federal bench. He also suggested that Hamilton, now chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, fits the category of a “very liberal judge,” but he left open the possibility that he would defer to the president’s choice.
“We expect him to nominate very liberal judges,” he said of Obama. “There’s no way that he could get past his major constituencies on putting very liberal judges on the bench. I tend to want to support the president and his nominees or her nominees, whoever is president, and I’ve voted against very few judgeship nominees.”
A former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch is likely to be a key vote in the upcoming battles over whether to confirm Hamilton and Obama’s other nominees for the federal bench. With Democrats controlling 58 seats in the Senate, they need help from at least a couple Republicans to give a nominee a confirmation vote.
Hatch said that President Bill Clinton sought his input on nominees during the 1990s. “Hopefully, President Obama will do the same, but there’re a lot of concerns on Judge Hamilton,” he said. He didn’t elaborate, but conservatives have cited Hamilton’s work with the American Civil Liberties Union and his rulings in abortion-related cases.
The comments followed a speech (pdf) Hatch gave at the National Press Club to a symposium on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Hatch is helping to negotiate a major overhaul of patent law, and he suggested that senators might be coming to agreement on a key sticking point: how to calculate damages in patent infringement cases. He said the judge in such a trial should act as a gatekeeper, instructing juries on what factors to consider in determining damages, and that the damages “should be based on the economic value of the invention to the infringed product or process.”
Lawmakers still disagree on the standard for determining inequitable conduct, he said. The standard is used to determine when a patent can be invalidated based on alleged misstatements to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.