- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Most Republicans boycotted the hearing Wednesday for President Barack Obama’s first judicial nominee, allowing Democrats to pitch softballs to David Hamilton in his quest for a seat on a Midwestern appeals court.

The committee will not vote on the nomination for several weeks. But with Republicans complaining of inadequate preparation time, the hearing signaled a rocky beginning to Obama’s attempt to remake the federal judiciary.

Hamilton, a U.S. district judge from Indiana, has issued a number of controversial rulings in more than 1,100 opinions and nearly 15 years on the bench. He struck down the use of sectarian prayer to open the Indiana legislature and also ruled against a state law that required a woman seeking abortion services to receive counseling from her doctor. The counseling was required at least 18 hours before the procedure.

Both decisions were reversed by the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Hamilton would serve if confirmed. The circuit hears appeals from lower courts in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.

The judiciary committee includes some of the most conservative Republican senators, Without their presence and their challenges, Democrats simply asked Hamilton to explain a few of his rulings.

He said he threw out a state law allowing warrantless searches of sex offenders’ computers _ after the offenders completed their sentences _ because it was unconstitutional. The ruling was not appealed.

Hamilton added the prayer and abortion rulings were consistent with other court rulings.

He also emphasized, “The federal judiciary is not a place for anyone to exercise their personal opinions.”

The ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, appeared at the start to say how “very distasteful” it was that Republicans weren’t given adequate preparation time.

Specter complained that Hamilton was nominated March 17 and submitted answers to an extensive questionnaire on March 24. He said the boxes containing Hamilton’s opinions and other writings could be four feet high if he had chosen to pile them on the room’s rectangular conference table.

The other Republican to show up was Indiana’s senior senator, Richard Lugar, who couldn’t say enough to praise Hamilton’s qualifications.

In other responses to the questions from Democrats, Hamilton said he expected to work well with colleagues on the 11-seat appeals court, hopes that Congress will give the judiciary adequate resources and knows when it’s necessary to avoid cases that could present a conflict of interest.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., captured the sentiment best when she briefly ran the hearing and said, “This is my party now” but “half the people didn’t come.” She later lamented, “There was no one to tango with.”

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