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U.S. Senate confirms Hamilton for 7th Circuit

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U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton is the newest jurist on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

After a half hour of final debate starting at 2 p.m., the U.S. Senate voted within an hour to confirm Judge Hamilton, who was President Barack Obama's first judicial pick.

He has served the Southern District of Indiana bench for 15 years and currently serves as chief judge. He succeeds Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple, who took senior status in September 2008.

"We're so very happy for our colleague that this long process has finally ended," said Judge Sarah Evans Barker in Indianapolis, "and of course, that it's culminated in his appointment. We have always had complete confidence in his abilities, and that's never waived. We'll miss his collegiality on our court here, but we'll look forward to working with him at the Court of Appeals level."

Today's final vote of 59-39 capped an eight-month nomination process that had been prevented from reaching the floor for debate since June when Judge Hamilton survived the Senate Judiciary Committee by a partisan vote. On Tuesday, 70 percent of the Senate crushed a judicial filibuster threat by some conservative senators, allowing the controversial nomination to finally proceed to an up-or-down vote.

Sen. Jeffrey Sessions, R-Ala., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed Judge Hamilton's nomination because of concerns about his record and work history, which they labeled as "liberal" and evidence of a "judicial activist." Sessions pushed debate because the judge was the president's first pick and sets the stage for how both parties can proceed on future judicial nominations.

But several senators - including Indiana's senators, Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh - defended Judge Hamilton and called those accusations unfounded, saying the judge is well qualified for the appellate bench.

Speaking on Judge Hamilton's behalf from the Senate floor earlier this week, Bayh called the nomination delays that had stopped the judge from getting a vote since summer a "sad state of our judicial nominating process."

"I know first hand (Judge Hamilton) is a highly capable lawyer who understands the limited role of the federal judiciary," he said.

A formal swearing in will likely occur in early 2010, and the judge will be able to begin his appellate duties immediately after the president signs his commission document. But as has happened in the past with other judges, the chief Circuit judge will likely re-designate him to the District Court in a limited capacity in order to tie up his caseload and assist until a successor is nominated and confirmed. Bayh's office has not publicly released any candidates' names and the White House does not have a timeline for when any judicial nomination might be announced.

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