Civil Rights Legend Comes Out Hard Against Obama Judicial Nominee (UPDATED)


Congressman John Lewis (D-GA)


Lewis released a statement Monday afternoon making clear that he still opposes the Boggs nomination — “I do not have a vote in the Senate, but if I did I would vote against the confirmation of Michael Boggs.” Lewis added that Boggs’ record is “in direct opposition to everything I have stood for during my career.”

You can read Lewis’ full statement here.

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The battle over Judge Michael Boggs, a conservative federal judicial nominee under fire for a history of anti-gay and anti-abortion votes as a state lawmaker — as well as a vote to keep the Confederate battle emblem as part of Georgia’s state flag — grew even more inflamed over the weekend after a key senator suggested that she had a legendary civil rights leader’s blessing to vote for the nomination. Shortly after President Obama nominated Boggs as part of a GOP-friendly package of judges, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) criticized the package generally and Boggs’ vote in favor of the Confederate Flag in particular. Lately, however, Lewis has been much more quiet about the nomination — even as several top Senate Democrats have said they will seek Lewis’ guidance in deciding how to vote on the nominee.

As a young man, Lewis led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the most important civil rights leaders in the country. He still bears scars from a beating he endured during his fight for equal rights.

Though Lewis has not said much to the public recently about Boggs, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) claims that he told her that the total package of judges that includes Boggs is “a good ticket.” Because Feinstein is a member of the Judiciary Committee, her vote could be crucial in determining whether Boggs is confirmed.

Only a few hours after Feinstein’s characterization of her conversation with Lewis became public, Rep. David Scott (D-GA) — a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a leading opponent of Boggs — tweeted a very pointed response:

This morass of hearsay statements, public silence and angry rhetoric is confusing enough, but it’s the result of an even more confusing Senate Judiciary Committee practice. A practice known as the “blue slip” permits home-state senators to inform the Judiciary Committee’s chair about whether they support or oppose a judicial nominee from their state. For much of this practice’s history, however, it was purely advisory — nominees that were opposed by their home-state senators could still receive a vote by the full Senate. Nevertheless, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who currently leads the Judiciary Committee, is one of two chairmen in the committee’s history who treats the blue slip as an absolute right to veto nominees. That is, if a single home-state senator objects to someone nominated to a federal judgeship in their state, Leahy will prevent the nominee from receiving a committee hearing and the nomination will effectively die.

Armed with this ability to prevent Obama from having anyone at all confirmed to any seat in Georgia, the state’s two Republican Senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, were able to drive a very hard bargain with the White House. Essentially, the two senators pressured Obama into nominating four of their choices to various federal judicial seats. In return, Obama only got to select two judges. One of Chambliss and Isakson’s selections was Boggs. Another is an attorney who defended a voter suppression law as a lawyer for the state of Georgia.

The White House’s view is that it is better to nominate this Republican-friendly package of judges than to allow the seats to remain vacant indefinitely. According to Feinstein, Lewis now appears to share a similar view. Scott’s position, by contrast, is that confirming Boggs — who once campaigned for office by touting his anti-gay views and his “quality conservative Christian values” — is unacceptable under any circumstances.

Senator Leahy has the power to take away Chambliss and Isakson’s veto power over judicial nominees, and thus free the White House to withdraw Boggs’ nomination without consequences. Thus far, however, Leahy’s office has staunchly defended his decision to maintain his current blue slip policy. The result is that Georgia’s Republican senators not only got to pick most of the judicial nominees named within their state, but they’ve also succeeded in sowing anger and discord throughout the House and Senate Democratic caucuses.