Judge Not?: Religious Right Attacks Obama's First Judicial Nominee

The Religious Right smear machine is operating on full power.

U.S. District Judge David Hamilton has been nominated by President Barack Obama to a seat on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and will face the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow. The Religious Right smear machine is operating on full power.

According to March 17 e-mail alert from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, 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."

Perkins is hardly alone. The American Center for Law and Justice accuses Hamilton of being an extremist on abortion rights and says he is "entirely out-of-step with the opinion of the majority of Americans."

The Christian Coalition is worked up as well, branding Hamilton a "judicial activist judge hostile to Christianity and a radical on abortion."

Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America said, "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."

What did Hamilton do to deserve such scorn?

In 2005, he ruled that the Indiana House of Representatives must stop opening its sessions with prayers that were almost exclusively Christian. Hamilton had the temerity to point out that government has no business sponsoring a certain type of religious worship and referred to a 1983 Supreme Court ruling permitting legislative prayer as long as it is non-sectarian.

Hamilton also believes that a woman should have the right to choose an abortion under certain circumstances without having to first jump through a series of patronizing hoops, a stance codified by the Supreme Court in 1973.

Religious Right groups do not like these rulings, so they have resorted to their usual trick – character assassination. Several have labored hard to tie Hamilton to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a community-based group that emerged as leading right-wing bugbear during the 2008 election. The Christian Coalition, for example, referred to Hamilton as a "fund-raiser" for ACORN.

In fact, as my friend Steve Benen pointed out on his blog, 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.

Religious Right groups will use the Hamilton nomination to boost their profiles and raise money. It's unlikely they will be able to derail the nomination. Few Americans share the far right's obsession with ACORN, and Hamilton has been rated "well qualified" by the American Bar Association. This first battle over a judicial nominee is important, as it will likely set the tone for what is to come.

There are currently 15 vacancies on federal appeals courts around the country. I'm hoping Obama's future appointments annoy the Religious Right as much as this one has.