WASHINGTON (BP)–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 Clinton.
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 decision.
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.
“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.
“The historical 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 disagree.
“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.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, and Michael Foust, an assistant editor for Baptist Press.