President Barack Obama has settled on his first nominee for the federal judiciary, confirming a report this morning in The New York Times that he would choose Judge David Hamilton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
In a news release, Obama said he is nominating Hamilton to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Hamilton, if confirmed, would fill the vacancy created when Judge Kenneth Ripple took senior status in September.
“Judge Hamilton has a long and impressive record of service and a history of handing down fair and judicious decisions. He will be a thoughtful and distinguished addition to the 7th circuit and I am extremely pleased to put him forward to serve the people of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin,” Obama said in the news release.
The selection is notable because of its early timing — President George W. Bush named his first appellate nominees in May of his first year — and because Bush and President Bill Clinton named their first nominees for the federal bench in groups. Hamilton has the support of both Indiana senators, Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican Richard Lugar.
Hamilton worked as an associate and then partner at Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis and served as counsel to Bayh when he was governor. Hamilton served on the Indiana State Recount Commission and as chairman of the Indiana State Ethics Committee.
He is brothers with John Hamilton, who is the husband of Dawn Johnsen, nominee for assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. He was law school classmates (Yale '83) with Ron Weich, expected to lead the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs.
Some of the reaction so far:
Lugar: “I enthusiastically support the Senate confirmation of David Hamilton for U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Hamilton has served the Southern District of Indiana with distinction as U.S. District Court Judge.”
Bayh: “I was proud to work side by side with Senator Lugar to recommend Judge Hamilton for this lifetime appointment. President Obama is right that Democrats and Republicans can work together to put highly qualified jurists on the federal bench. Judge Hamilton is an exceptional jurist who has demonstrated the highest ethical standards and a firm commitment to applying our country's laws fairly.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.): “After the partisan and divisive approach that President Bush took with judicial nominations, I appreciate President Obama’s seriousness in making his selection, and his constructive engagement with both Senator Lugar and Senator Bayh, the Republican and Democratic home state Senators. The President is doing his part to remove these matters from partisan politics, and that’s a healthy change for the nation and for all three branches of government.”
Kathryn Kolbert, president of the liberal group People for the American Way: “David Hamilton is an ideal choice for this seat. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a willingness to put principle ahead of politics and bring an open mind to every case. Judge Hamilton has shown a deep commitment to the rule of law and core constitutional principles of liberty, equality, and justice for all Americans. I’m encouraged not only that President Obama has made such a strong choice, but by his success in reaching across the aisle and winning the support of both of Indiana’s Senators. This is a very good sign for the caliber of nominees we can expect from this president. I urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm him.”
Ed Whelan of the conservative National Review Online: “It’s far from clear what justifies the article’s characterization of Hamilton as a “moderate” (or, as the article oddly puts it, as “represent[ing] some of his state’s traditionally moderate strain” — how does one represent some of a strain?). Was it perhaps Hamilton’s service as vice president for litigation, and as a board member, of the Indiana branch of the ACLU? Or maybe Hamilton’s extraordinary seven-year-long series of rulings obstructing Indiana’s implementation of its law providing for informed consent on abortion?”
Whelan also notes that a majority of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Hamilton “not qualified” when Clinton nominated him to the District Court in 1994. The ratings from the time (pdf) show the committee was split, with others voting for “qualified” or “well-qualified.”
UPDATE (1:20 p.m.): Curt Levey, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice: “Even if we put aside Hamilton’s leadership role in the Indiana ACLU and his fundraising efforts for ACORN, an examination of his judicial record on abortion, the Establishment Clause, sex offenders and suppression of evidence indicate that he is decidedly liberal. More disturbingly, Hamilton’s rulings on those issues show that he has a penchant for judicial activism and overreach. If he’s part of the mainstream of legal thought – a charitable characterization – it’s only because he falls on the left edge of the mainstream. I expected Obama to appoint liberal judges, but I was certainly hoping they would be closer to the American center. Hopefully, Judge Hamilton’s nomination is a sop to the far left and thus unrepresentative of his future judicial picks.”
UPDATE II (1:35 p.m.): The ABA's committee has released a new rating (pdf) of "well-qualified." The vote appears to have been unanimous.