Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee moved forward today with a confirmation hearing for President Barack Obama’s first judicial nominee, despite cries from Republicans that they had little time to prepare.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the committee’s top Republican, said his staff received a background questionnaire from David Hamilton, nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, on March 18. Specter said the timing of the hearing kept his staff from fully examining Hamilton’s record, including 1,150 written opinions taking up 9,500 pages from Hamilton’s 15 years as a judge for the Southern District of Indiana.
“The Constitution, as we all know, calls on the Senate to confirm. And indispensable to the confirmation process is an opportunity to examine the record of the individual. And that means a hearing, and that means questions and answers, and that means an opportunity to prepare,” Specter said.
Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) responded that committee members would have at least four more weeks before voting on Hamilton’s nomination. The Senate begins its two-week Easter recess next week.
Successful nominees for federal circuit courts faced an average of five months from nomination to confirmation during both Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s presidencies, according to a report (pdf) last year from the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. Ronald Reagan’s circuit nominees took two months and George H.W. Bush’s took about three on average.
Only a handful of senators attended today’s hearing, which doubled — or tripled — as the confirmation hearing for Ron Weich to be the Justice Department’s head of legislative affairs and for R. Gil Kerlikowske to be the director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy. Specter said frustration with the timing kept some Republicans from attending, and the Senate was also occupied with votes on a federal budget resolution. The whole hearing took less than two hours.
Specter, who left the hearing after a 10-minute statement, urged Hamilton to consider volunteering for a second hearing. Such a hearing would be rare. He told reporters later that he doubts the Senate would reject the nomination.