Eight months after President Barack Obama chose him, and five months after getting through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a partisan vote, Judge Hamilton will learn whether he'll be elevated to the appellate bench from the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, where he currently serves as chief judge and has been a judge for 15 years.
About 70 percent of the Senate voted Tuesday afternoon to crush a judicial filibuster threat from some conservative Republican senators, meaning a final vote could proceed on President Barack Obama's first judicial pick. The 5 p.m. vote was 70-29, with 10 Republicans and two Independents crossing the partisan aisle to cut off debate. A procedural 30 hours of debate time followed, but on Wednesday less than an hour was devoted to discussing the judge's nomination overall as the day and evening's business went on.
Earlier in the week, both of Indiana's senators - Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh - spoke in favor of Judge Hamilton and highlighted their thoughts that he's well qualified for the appellate bench.
But on Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. and a Senate Judiciary Committee member, was the most dramatic in his opposition, at times pointing his finger in the air and shouting "activist" or "ignored" in referencing what he thought of the judge's rulings and his adherence to precedent. The senator repeatedly accused Judge Hamilton of breaching his judicial oath and disrespecting the rule of law by using his own personal bias and prejudices to "do what he wants" instead of following the U.S. Constitution.
"He embraces a liberal activist philosophy, and has implemented that philosophy in his decisions," Coburn said. "That's the problem with activist judges. They see no limits; they take a personal bias and use that bias to make their own decisions rather than looking at the Constitution."
Sen. Jeffrey Sessions, R-Ala., the ranking party member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed the cloture motion and voiced concerns about Judge Hamilton's record and work history, saying it's important to continue debate on Judge Hamilton because he was the president's first pick and will set the stage for how both parties can proceed on future judicial nominations.
Speaking Wednesday evening from the Senate floor, Sessions reiterated those points and added that no debate had been offered by Democrats on Judge Hamilton's nomination and that his colleagues hadn't been given enough time to debate the judge's merits. Sessions said he expects that more than the 29 cloture-opposing senators would vote against Judge Hamilton once the final vote takes place.
The Senate returns Thursday morning, and at 2 p.m. will have only 30 minutes of debate on Judge Hamilton's nomination before proceeding to the final vote.