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Next up for Judge Hamilton: full Senate vote

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After surviving a Senate committee's party-line vote today, an Indianapolis-based federal judge must now get approval from the full U.S. Senate in order to move to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Senate Judiciary Committee this morning voted 12-7 along party lines to favorably report U.S. District Chief Judge David F. Hamilton's nomination, which would move him from the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana.

He is the first judicial pick made by President Barack Obama and is largely viewed as a test for how lawmakers will handle future nominees, particularly anyone considered for a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States. The significance of that was clear after today's executive business meeting, where senators spent about 30 minutes debating Judge Hamilton's nomination and broader judicial nominee issues before finally voting.

Republican senators voiced their fundamental disagreement with how the president views judicial nominees and particularly with his push for more "empathy" on the federal bench, while Democrats defended those views and referred back to past presidents' nominations and their overall views of the process. Some of the discussion related specifically to Judge Hamilton, some did not.

"Empathy doesn't decide cases; the law decides cases," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said. "There's always some authority, statute, or rule of construction that lawyers use. Every lawyer worth his salt has a statute or rule of construction to support his (or her) case. There's always a legal reason to rule, and you don't default to what's in your heart."

When committee chairman Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., tried to direct those and other statements to Judge Hamilton, Kyl responded: "I am not trying to filibuster Judge Hamilton. But we have to have this discussion. ... We haven't had a Circuit (judge) vote ... and I sense this will be something that comes up again and again," he said.

Other senators, including ranking Republican committee member Jeff Sessions from Alabama, noted that Judge Hamilton doesn't seem committed to following the law and seems more willing to allow his personal views to impact his rulings. They pointed to several of his decisions that have been reversed by the 7th Circuit, including one where he denied injunction to a Jewish rabbi who'd wanted to put up a menorah in the lobby of the City-County Building in Indianapolis.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., defended both Judge Hamilton and the president's nomination statements.

"Every judge is going to have cases we disagree with, but you have to look at entirety of their judicial record," she said, pointing out that Judge Hamilton has the support of Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and that the head of the Indiana chapter of the conservative Federalist Society has called his judicial philosophy well within the mainstream.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., accused Republicans of being hypocritical, turning empathy into the "Darth Vader of any judicial appointment," and orchestrating an effort to oppose anyone with compassion or a sense of mercy.

Responding, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said, "I want a compassionate judge, but the dividing line is whether that empathy rules over what's clearly written. We see a level (of empathy) that denies certain functions of the law, or ignores them. We want compassion, but we want it applied evenly with the rule of law. That's where the rub is with Judge Hamilton."

Several senators weren't present at the hearing, but those attending voted by proxy in their names. With the committee reporting this nomination favorable, the full Senate will now get the nomination. There's no set timeline for a confirmation vote, but the Senate majority leader will be responsible for determining when that might happen.

If confirmed, Judge Hamilton would succeed Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple who took senior status in September.

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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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