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Obama names first court pick

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

President Obama named his first judicial nomination Tuesday, tapping a federal district judge from Indiana to serve on a Midwest federal appeals court and making good on his goal of working with senators to find consensus picks.

Both Indiana senators praised the nomination of Chief Judge David Hamilton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to serve on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, meaning Mr. Obama is unlikely to face a filibuster of his first nomination.

"Judge Hamilton has a long and impressive record of service and a history of handing down fair and judicious decisions," Mr. Obama said in a statement announcing the pick for the court, which serves Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Among Judge Hamilton's noteworthy decisions in his 14 years as a federal district judge were cases in which he doled out stiff prison sentences to white-collar criminals, and an abortion case in which he struck down an Indiana law that required women to get counseling from a doctor at least 18 hours before having an abortion.

His ruling in the abortion case was later overturned by a divided panel of the 7th Circuit - the court Judge Hamilton would join, if confirmed.

The judge, named to the chief spot in January 2008, would fill the seat of Judge Kenneth F. Ripple, who retired.

The Hamilton nomination makes good on Mr. Obama's campaign pledge for home-state consultation, and the support of Indiana's senators - Richard G. Lugar, a Republican, and Evan Bayh, a Democrat - both of whom recommended Judge Hamilton for the post.

It also meets the key test Senate Republicans set up to determine whether they would filibuster the Democratic president's nominees.

The 41 Republican senators recently sent a letter to the president urging him to work with home-state lawmakers and asking him as a show of good faith to renominate some of President George W. Bush's judicial picks.

When Mr. Bush took office, he nominated holdovers from President Clinton's administration - Judges Barrington Parker and Roger Gregory to the separate appeals courts.

An administration official would not comment on the Republican senators' request, but told The Washington Times that the White House is consulting with Republicans - members of the Judiciary Committee and home-state senators - on future judicial nominations.

The official said the president would steadily announce more nominations in the coming weeks when the president is confident they are ready to serve, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Mr. Obama has not yet made the nominations.

Judge Hamilton's nomination comes less than two months into the administration, meaning Mr. Obama is moving at a faster clip than Mr. Bush.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the process a "healthy change" from the past.

Kathryn Kolbert, president of the liberal group People for the American Way, called Judge Hamilton an "ideal choice" who has "demonstrated a willingness to put principle ahead of politics and bring an open mind to every case."

Wendy Long, counsel for the Judicial Confirmation Network, labeled Judge Hamilton a "hard-left political activist," noting his work with the Indiana ACLU and suggesting he had an affiliation with the community organizing group ACORN.

"After college as a young man, he served one month as a canvasser for ACORN, helping them raise money door to door.

Judge Hamilton had been a partner at a private Indianapolis firm and was counsel for Mr. Bayh, who was then governor.

"President Obama is right that Democrats and Republicans can work together to put highly qualified jurists on the federal bench," Mr. Bayh said in a statement, adding the process has become too partisan in recent years.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs outlined Tuesday the president's philosophy on choosing judges.

"A wide variety of past experience and having the ability to empathize and walk in someone's shoes provides valuable perspective for somebody making important decisions from the bench," he said.

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