Dems stop Senate filibuster over court nominee

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on Tuesday crushed a Senate filibuster against a controversial appeals-court nominee, demonstrating to Republicans they can’t stop President Barack Obama from turning the federal judiciary to the left.

The 70-29 vote limited debate over the qualifications of U.S. District Judge David Hamilton of Indiana and assured his elevation to the Chicago-based appeals court. Sixty votes were needed to end the filibuster, but confirmation requires only a simple majority of the 100-member Senate.

Ten Republicans repudiated their own party leaders and voted to limit debate. The Obama administration made a crucial decision from the outset by getting the support of Hamilton’s home-state Republican senator, Richard Lugar.

The vote emphatically warned Republicans that with only 40 senators, they’re too outnumbered to prevent Obama from making major inroads into a judiciary that was populated over eight years with conservative judges chosen by President George W. Bush.

Republicans have objected to having a vote on Hamilton’s confirmation since June, when the Judiciary Committee reported his nomination favorably to the full Senate.

Conservative Republican senators and their judicial-watching outside groups then launched a major political assault on Hamilton.

They criticized his rulings against Christian prayers in the Indiana Legislature and against a menorah in the Indiana Municipal Building’s holiday display.

Conservatives were furious that Hamilton struck down part of an Indiana law requiring women to make two trips to a clinic for counseling before they could get an abortion. He said the requirement placed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to end a pregnancy.

Beyond the political message, the filibuster effectively ended a bipartisan accord reached in 2005, when 14 senators signed onto a deal that effectively stopped Democratic filibusters of Bush’s judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the Republican opposition was “more of the partisan, narrow, ideological tactics that Senate Republicans have been engaging in for decades as they try to pack the courts with ultraconservative judges.”

The Senate confirmed 326 of Bush’s court nominees. There are 876 court seats, mostly for the regionally based courts of appeals and lower district courts.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who led the opposition to Hamilton, argued that Hamilton’s record met his definition of extraordinary circumstances.

He not only attacked Hamilton’s judicial record but criticized his work in the distant past: vice president for litigation and board member of the American Civil Liberties Union in Indiana; and a fundraiser for two months for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

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