Obama’s First Court Pick Supports Separation, Angers Religious Right

Religious Right groups are up in arms over President Barack Obama’s first appointment to the federal appeals court system.

David Hamilton, who currently serves on a U.S. district court in Indiana, has been nominated by Obama to move up to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one level below the U.S. Supreme Court.

As soon as Hamilton’s name was announced, the Religious Right cranked up its smear machine.

In an e-mail message to supporters, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Hamilton is guilty of “hostility to good law on issues of life and faith.” A few days later, Perkins told supporters, “Confirming him to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals would be a grave setback for the culture of life and all who cherish constitutional restraint. We cannot stress the urgency of this nomination enough.”

TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice accused Hamilton of being an extremist on abortion rights and says he is “entirely out-of-step with the opinion of the majority of Americans.”

Even the now low-profile Christian Coalition got in on the act, branding Hamilton a “judicial activist judge hostile to Christianity and a radical on abortion.” Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America chimed in, “Hamilton’s decisions reveal a deep disrespect for the Constitution and overinflated view of his own opinion.” Jonathan Falwell called the nomination, “a tragic move on our President’s part.”

Much of the Religious Right hostility toward Hamilton stems from a 2005 ruling ordering the Indiana House of Representatives to stop opening its sessions with prayers that were almost exclusively Christian. Hamilton pointed out that government has no business sponsoring a certain type of worship and referred to a 1983 Supreme Court ruling permitting legislative prayer as long as it is non-sectarian.

Hamilton, reflecting Supreme Court doctrine, has also ruled that women should have the right to choose an abortion under certain circumstances without having to jump over various government-imposed roadblocks.

In their effort to smear Hamilton, several Religious Right groups attempted to tie him to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a community-based group that emerged as a leading right-wing bogeyman during the 2008 election. The Christian Coalition, for example, referred to Hamilton as a “fund-raiser” for ACORN.

In fact, as several progressive bloggers pointed out, Hamilton worked for the group soliciting donations for the grand total of one month in 1979 – when he was 22 years old and preparing to graduate from college.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Hamilton April 1. Republicans boycotted the event, complaining that they had not had enough time to study Hamilton’s views. But Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pointed out that because of Congress’ spring schedule, there would be plenty of time to examine Hamilton’s views before a vote.

It was unclear when Hamilton’s nomination would receive a vote as Church & State went to press, and some Religious Right groups were calling on GOP senators to filibuster him.

There are currently 15 vacancies on federal appeals courts around the country.