WASHINGTON — Democrats on Tuesday crushed a Senate filibuster against a controversial appeals court nominee, demonstrating to Republicans that they can't stop President Barack Obama from turning the federal judiciary to the left.
The 70-29 vote limited debate over the qualifications of U.S. District Judge David Hamilton of Indiana and assured his elevation to the Chicago-based appeals court. Sixty votes were needed to end the filibuster, but confirmation only requires a simple majority of the 100-member Senate.
Ten Republicans repudiated their own party leaders and voted to limit debate. The Obama administration made a crucial decision from the outset by getting the support of Hamilton's home-state Republican senator, Richard Lugar.
The vote emphatically warned Republicans that with only 40 senators, they're too outnumbered to prevent Obama from making major inroads into a judiciary that was populated over eight years with conservative judges chosen by President George W. Bush.
Republicans have objected to holding a vote on Hamilton's confirmation since June, when the Judiciary Committee reported his nomination favorably to the full Senate.
Conservative Republican senators and their judicial-watching outside groups then launched a major political assault on Hamilton. They criticized his rulings against Christian prayers in the Indiana Legislature and against a menorah in the Indiana Municipal Building's holiday display.
Conservatives were furious that Hamilton struck down part of an Indiana law requiring women to make two trips to a clinic for counseling before they could get an abortion. He said the requirement placed an undue burden on a woman's constitutional right to choose to end a pregnancy.