Last week, Nan Aron asked, in the headline of her Huffington Post article, “Why Did Republicans Boycott the Senate Judiciary Hearing on Hamilton?” Great question. Though I suspect it was more than just a little rhetorical, I thank her very much for asking it. And I certainly don’t mind being the one to answer.
First, some background, since Ms. Aron gave very little in her column:
On April 1, Sen Orrin Hatch joined other Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in declining to attend the confirmation hearing of Judge David Hamilton to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, complaining that Democrats on the committee were rushing to push the confirmation through.
“There is no reason for scheduling a drive-by hearing only days after nomination except to turn the Senate into a rubber stamp for President Obama’s nominees,” said Hatch.
In a letter to the committee chairman, Patrick Leahy, Republicans explained that “None of President Bush’s circuit court nominees received a hearing so quickly. In fact, on average, senators were afforded 166 days to prepare for hearings on President Bush’s circuit court nominees, and 117 days for President Clinton’s circuit nominees. This nomination is ill-suited to being rushed. The vacancy to be filled is not a judicial emergency.”
So to answer the question on the most superficial level, Republicans boycotted the hearing because they’d like some time to evaluate an important appointee’s long record. And any arguments against this kind of careful consideration when appointing someone who would be, in most cases, the final word in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois, can really only be described as partisan.
But, if all that sounds like a bunch of Capitol Hill posturing and boring beltway bureaucracy, let me tell you the real reasons Republicans are concerned about President Obama’s nominee. In detailing the “record of the judges President Bush put on the federal bench with the enthusiastic support of these same Republican senators” in her Huffington Post piece, Ms. Aron fails to mention Judge David Hamilton’s own record.
I understand why – it isn’t pretty, and it’s hard to explain. And it’s especially inconvenient for Ms. Aron, the President of the Alliance for Justice, an organization that purportedly seeks to advance the cause of justice for “everyone in America, not just a few,” because Hamilton’s rulings over the past 15 years as a federal district judge haven’t necessarily been in everyone’s best interest. But neglecting to mention his record may have been an honest mistake, so I’ll touch on some of the highlights here.
For one, he sought to bar prayers that mention Jesus Christ at the opening of each daily session of the Indiana House of Representatives, claiming people do not have a First Amendment right to use an official platform to express their own religious faith. But – and here’s where it gets good – praying in the name of Allah was perfectly fine.
“If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic ‘Allah,’” or any other non-English word for God besides “Jesus Christ,” “the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others.”
As the kids say, Huh? Praying in the name of Allah doesn’t advance a particular religion? I’m totally unfamiliar with Allah’s secular identity. Is “Allah” also a pagan deity? Is “Allah” also god of NASCAR or the iPod? Why would someone want to silence a majority in favor of the few? Luckily, the ruling was overturned by the very court to which Judge Hamilton stands to be appointed.
Moving on, in 2001 he decided that requiring women to get information from their doctors about the medical risks of abortions at least 18 hours before the procedure placed an undue burden on women’s rights to get an abortion, and quickly. As we all know, information is the real culprit behind the rise in unwanted pregnancies, so we can all understand Judge Hamilton’s rationale behind trying to make it some kind of illegal contraband. This ruling, too, was reversed by the appeals court, which, in a bizarre twist, found that informing women before surgery was “reasonable, sensible and lawful.” Those kooky appeals judges…
And just last year, Hamilton struck down a provision that would have allowed law enforcement officials to search suspicious sex offenders’ computers if they’d already served time for, well, being sex offenders. As the former leader of the Indiana chapter of the ACLU, I guess it’s no surprise that Judge Hamilton has a soft spot for violent criminals.
When President Obama announced his appointment, the Judicial Confirmation Network quickly opposed Hamilton, declaring him an “ultra-liberal” who was once a fundraiser for ACORN and was rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association in 1994. According to the Indianapolis Star, the ABA then said “he lacked sufficient trial experience and years practicing.” Rest assured, though, in the 15 years since he’s racked up a ton of experience, and the ABA now considers him “well qualified.” So does People for The American Way, a liberal advocacy group. And so does Hamilton’s uncle, former US Representative Lee Hamilton, who supported Obama’s presidential campaign.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will likely vote on Judge Hamilton this month – as soon as possible if Democrats have their way. But it is not an honest or serious argument to question the actions of concerned Republicans on the committee without discussing Judge Hamilton’s disturbing record. Ms. Aron’s Huffington Post examination of the situation on the Hill is akin to asking, “Why did the mice run away when the cat came?” while failing to mention that cats eat mice. So, to answer the question, Ms. Aron, Republicans boycotted the hearing because Hamilton is a controversial appointee, and they’d like some time to examine his record. The better question is, What are the Democrats scared they may find?
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