Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cloture Voted On Hamilton's Nomination For 7th Circuit

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted 70-29 to invoke cloture and thus end debate on the nomination of Indiana federal district judge David Hamilton to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. (See prior related posting.) As reported by the Christian Science Monitor, opponents raised a number of issues, including Hamilton's short stint after college with ACORN and a decision he wrote invalidating Indiana's informed consent abortion law that would have required two trips to a clinic to obtain an abortion. However, the greatest focus by opponents were Hamilton's two related 2005 decisions holding that the Indiana House of Representatives, in opening its sessions with sectarian prayer, violated the Establishment Clause. (See prior postings 1, 2.)

The most strident criticisms accused Hamilton of "prohibiting prayers that mention Jesus Christ in the Indiana House of Representatives, but allowing prayers that mention Allah." (Red State blog.) That charge grew out of language in Hamilton's second opinion explaining the scope of the injunction. It specifically banned sectarian prayer, including Christian prayer that uses the name of "Christ." Hamilton emphasized that the only sectarian prayers that seem to have been offered in the Indiana House were Christian ones. Non-sectarian prayer, addressing God more generically, is permitted. Hamilton wrote:
The Arabic word "Allah" is used for “God” in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures. If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language's terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others. If and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court.
The Senate is scheduled to take its final vote on Hamilton's nomination today.

UPDATE: On Thursday the Senate gave final approval to Hamilton's nomination by a vote of 59-39.