Obama to Begin Filling Vacancies on Circuit Courts of Appeal

The New York Times is reporting that President Barack Obama is expected to name his first candidate to an appeals court seat this week: David F. Hamilton, a federal trial court judge from Indiana, for the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago.

Judge Hamilton, who is said by lawyers to represent some of his state’s traditionally moderate strain, served as counsel to Senator Evan Bayh when Mr. Bayh was the state’s governor; he is also a nephew of former Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana.

A senior administration official said Judge Hamilton would have the support of both Mr. Bayh, a Democrat, and the state’s other senator, Richard G. Lugar, a Republican. He will be nominated for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, based in Chicago.

The administration official said part of the reason for making the Hamilton nomination the administration’s first public entry into the often contentious field of judicial selection was to serve “as a kind of signal” about the kind of nominees Mr. Obama will select. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the nomination had not been officially made.

The White House is planning to announce a handful of other candidates over the next few weeks to fill some of the 17 vacancies on the appeals courts, which are just below the level of the Supreme Court.
On most of the 12 regional appeals courts, including on the Seventh Circuit for which Judge Hamilton has been nominated, a majority of the sitting judges were appointed by Republican presidents.

This likely means that an appointment to fill the vacancy for the Rhode Island seat on the First Circuit Court of Appeals will be announced “over the next few weeks.”  The Providence Journal reported last month that at least five people expressed their intent to Sen. Jack Reed’s office to be considered for the First Circuit or the District Court vacancy:

  • U.S. District Judge William E. Smith
  • U.S. District Magistrate Lincoln D. Almond
  • Superior Court Judge O. Rogieree Thompson
  • former state Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Flanders
  • Providence lawyer Samuel D. Zurier.

Another candidate who is surely being considered is US District Court Chief Judge Mary M. Lisi, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and who was profiled in Rhode Island Monthly here.

For his appointments, President Obama is also showing a different style and process than former President Bush:

By naming judges one at a time, Mr. Obama is taking a markedly different approach from former President George W. Bush, who held a ceremony on May 9, 2001, in the Rose Garden to present his first 11 choices for appeals court seats. The ceremony provided a political air to the nominations, most of which went to prominent conservatives.

The Obama administration has also restored the longstanding role of the American Bar Association in reviewing nominees before they are publicly announced. Mr. Bush reduced the group’s role after it earned the enmity of conservatives for its negative reviews of two Republican nominees for the Supreme Court.

The Wall St. Journal has more on the possible Hamilton appointment here.

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2 responses to “Obama to Begin Filling Vacancies on Circuit Courts of Appeal

  1. Pingback: Rhode Island’s 2010 Attorney General Race « Closing Argument: a blog on truth, justice, the law (and the politics in between)

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