WASHINGTON -- President Obama's first appeals court nominee is being promoted
as a moderate, but he's been at odds with social conservatives in two prominent
cases in recent years -- one pertaining to abortion and another concerning a
state's legislative prayers.
The president announced March 17 the
nomination of David Hamilton to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is
based in Chicago. Hamilton has served as a federal judge in Indiana since 1994,
when he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a nominee of President
In 2002, Hamilton struck down an Indiana law that required a
woman to receive in-person counseling 18 hours before undergoing an abortion. A
Seventh Circuit panel overturned Hamilton's decision in a 2-1
The Seventh Circuit also reversed a 2005 opinion by Hamilton in
which he ruled prayers in the Indiana legislature could not use "Christ's name
or title or any other denominational appeal." Hamilton sided with the ACLU's
Indiana branch, which filed the lawsuit.
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"All [ministers] are free to
pray as they wish in their own houses of worship or in other settings," Hamilton
wrote. "The individuals do not have a First Amendment right, however, to use an
official platform like the Speaker's podium at the opening of a House session to
express their own religious faiths."
Hamilton's "record on the bench
suggests a hostility to good law on issues of life and faith," said Tony
Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
reality is that the U.S. Constitution does not forbid Indiana from doing what it
had always done, that is, allowing each day's chaplains to pray for the
legislature as they see fit," Perkins wrote in his daily Washington Update
e-mail. "To do otherwise and prescribe the form of prayer -- be it sectarian or
non-sectarian (if such a prayer actually exists and is not itself a new sect) --
is what the Constitution actually forbids: state interference with the exercise
of religion. That Obama's first major judicial nominee would overturn two
centuries of settled First Amendment law to erect the ACLU's interpretation in
its place is deeply troubling."
The New York Times quoted an Obama
administration official as saying Hamilton served "as a kind of signal" about
the types of nominees Obama would select. Administration officials are calling
him a moderate -- a description with which Perkins and other conservatives would
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"We would like to put the history of the confirmation wars
behind us," the official told The Times.
The Seventh Circuit is the
federal appeals court for Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
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