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Obama Taps Moderate Judge, Brings ABA Back Into Fold

President Obama today announced that he is nominating moderate U.S. District Judge David Hamilton to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Hamilton has been a federal district judge in Indiana for the past 14 years; the president said in a statement that he "has a long and impressive record of service and a history of handing down fair and judicious decisions."

Mr. Obama is looking for nominees unlikely to drum up partisan divisions in the Senate, according to a senior White House official who spoke to the Associated Press. Early indications are that Hamilton fits the bill; the AP reports that Republican Indiana Senator Richard Lugar supports the nominee.

An administration official told the New York Times that "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."

An interesting legal note: The American Bar Association today announced that "the Obama Administration has requested that the [ABA] Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary resume its historical role in evaluating the professional qualifications of potential federal judicial nominees on a pre-nomination basis."

In other words, the ABA will again be participating in vetting judicial candidates – a practice that was halted by the Bush Administration, which alleged that the group was using its involvement in the process for political showboating.

"The ABA's renewed involvement in this process is a good thing," said CBS News Chief Legal Analyst and Legal Editor Andrew Cohen. "Lawyers are almost always in the best position to evaluate their own. The ABA 'peer review' can help an administration avoid some candidates who may, at first glance, appear attractive but who are ultimately ill-suited for the bench because of poor temperament, bad judgment, inexperience, or beyond-the-mainstream jurisprudence."

"A good ABA rating, on the other hand, reassures executive branch officials and U.S. Senators that the judicial candidate they are nominating and voting upon is likely to serve with fidelity to the Constitution, and to the broad range of acceptable legal norms, upon taking the bench," he added.

"The ABA recommendations are just that — guidelines designed to inform government choices about federal judges," Cohen continued. "They have been sorely missed over the past few years and are likely to help us get judges who are more professional and competent."

"And that's especially important because of the third bit of news this Tuesday; the government announced that the workload for federal judges is high and getting higher," he said. "The administration, therefore, must do more to break the logjam of judicial nominations that reached a nadir during the last few years of the Bush White House. The ABA's return to the process can only help make that happen."

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