The U.S. Senate voted today to end debate on President Barack Obama's most controversial circuit court nominee, as the Republican caucus fell short of maintaining a filibuster.
A final vote to confirm Judge David Hamilton to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit is likely in the next day or two. He has been on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana since 1994.
The vote of 70-29 shows how polarized the Senate can still be on nominees for the federal bench, despite Obama’s stated desire to call a truce on the highly politicized process. Democrats delayed many of President George W. Bush’s nominees, some of them for years, just as Republicans did with many of President Bill Clinton’s picks.
Democrats needed 60 votes to move Hamilton’s nomination forward. Among the Republicans who crossed the aisle to cut off debate, or invoke cloture, were Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Susan Collins (Maine), John Cornyn (Texas), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Richard Lugar (Indiana).
Hamilton was Obama’s first judicial nominee, announced March 17, and Democrats portrayed him as a moderate. He had worked in corporate litigation and as chief counsel to then-Gov. Evan Bayh of Indiana before Clinton nominated Hamilton to the district court.
But Republicans criticized his pro bono work for the Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1980s and his rulings on abortion, criminal sentencing, and prayer for the Indiana legislature. In 2005, for instance, Hamilton issued an injunction directing the Indiana House speaker to take steps to ensure prayers were nonsectarian.
“I’m at a loss to think that we could have someone of a greater ideological nature than Judge Hamilton,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican.
Bayh, now a Democratic senator, called the criticisms of Hamilton unfair. He pointed out that Hamilton’s father was a Methodist minister for about 40 years. “He is not hostile to religion. He is not hostile to Jesus Christ. That charge is unfounded,” Bayh said.
If confirmed, Hamilton would be Obama’s third nominee for a circuit court to win Senate approval.