Bench Memos

Hiding Hamilton

If further evidence were needed that Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy is afraid that adherence to the usual processes would enable Republicans to demonstrate that Seventh Circuit nominee David Hamilton (see here, here, here, and here) is not the “moderate” the Obama administration claims him to be, today’s sham public hearing on Hamilton’s nomination would provide it.

Carrying out his April Fool’s stunt, Leahy proceeded with the hearing today on Hamilton’s nomination—a mere 15 days after Hamilton’s nomination and barely a week after he had completed the submission of his Senate questionnaire materials.  The rush was all the more remarkable in light of the fact that Hamilton has authored more than 1200 opinions in nearly 15 years as a federal district judge and submitted approximately 2,000 pages of speeches and articles.  To put this rush in context:  During the Bush 43 administration, the average time from nomination to hearing for federal appellate nominees was 166 days overall, and 197 days while Leahy was chairman. 

But it gets worse:  Less than an hour before the scheduled start of the hearing, Leahy moved it from the committee’s usual hearing room (in a Senate office building) to a smaller and very crowded room near the Senate floor.  As a result, the usual hearing webcast did not occur.  Plus, I’m told that Republican staffers were initially turned away, and that it’s doubtful that any members of the public were able to attend.

By letter to Leahy, the committee Republicans complained about the hearing schedule and requested that Hamilton appear again for a second hearing after they have had adequate time to review his record.  (The letter cites as precedent for a second hearing the two hearings in 2003 on John Roberts’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit.)  I’m also told that on the one previous occasion that folks can remember when a judicial-confirmation hearing was held off the Senate floor rather than in a hearing room—a hearing on President Bush’s nomination of Charles W. Pickering to the Fifth Circuit—Democrats relied on that fact in support of their successful request for a second hearing on Pickering.

Update:  I’m further informed that committee Republicans, in protest of the extraordinary rush, declined to take part in the hearing.

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