Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Anatomy of a Judgeship

By Marie Stokes Jemison
From Southern Changes, Vol. 2, No. 2., 1979.

A vacancy loomed on the Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Janie Ledlow Shores set about to fill it.

Soon after Janie Ledlow Shores won election in 1974 on her second try for the Alabama Supreme Court, she hankered for a bigger prize. A vacancy loomed on the Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the first woman in Alabama and the third in the nation to sit on a state's highest court set about to fill it.
"I never did yearn for the U.S. Supreme Court even - just the Fifth Circuit." She knew where the real power resided. The Fifth had been the freedom train for Blacks in the fifties and sixties and Janie wanted to be part of the major legal decisions affecting the late seventies and eighties. So, she went for it when the vacancy was to be filled in 1976. During that presidential year the candidate Jimmy Carter promised judgeships on merit, not politics.
She was the only woman to apply to the first nominating commission appointed by the new President and his Attorney General, Griffin Bell. Although Shores and Bell were old buddies in the legal world and her qualifications as a legal scholar were renowned, her selection was not in the cards. Robert Vance, the witty, urbane, canny chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, was the select of destiny this time. Janie's friend Vance had made a national name for himself in the eleven years he headed the party as the Chief of Alabama's anti-Wallace forces. His law firm has profited handsomely by his fame as the voice of reason and progress in Alabama's gothic politics.
Now with George Wallace in his last Hurrah, a lifetime federal judgeship tempted. Who could deny him? Certainly not Allen and Sparkman, the two senators to whom he had been duly obedient and helpful. Certainly, not the southern president to whom he had delivered the state by a small margin. The charming Vance dazzled the commission. Janie came off nervous and unsure. She was surprised that she needed constituent letters. "Somebody told me I didn't need a lot of letters. I got the wrong signals."
Vance won handily.
After not even making the list of all White males, Janie returned to her active, visible role on the state court. She wrote opinions during 1977 and 1978 which proves the case for female judges. On April 22, 1977, the Alabama Supreme Court voted that a married woman had a right to sell her own property without her husband's consent. Justice Shores wrote the opinion.

"There is no provision of the (Alabama) constitution", she wrote, "which would permit the legislature to deny married women rights possessed by all other adults." "The authority to do so must be found in that document and cannot rest upon an ancient myth that married women are presumed more needful of protection of their own interests than other adults, male or female." Alabama was the last state in the Union to deny married women that privilege.

Next to fall was the archaic married woman's will. Under Alabama law, a woman who made a will during her first marriage was required to make a second one if she remarried. Failing to know this legal secret, as was the case with many women, the legal consequence was that second husband, on the death of the wife, shared her estate with her children. It mattered not that the woman had not wished her husband to inherit. This was the law until Janie Shores wrote the opinion striking it down.

In October 20, 1978, President Carter signed The Omnibus Judgeship Act. The law stated "The Congress takes note that only 1 percent of federal judges are women.

Since the last meeting three members of the commission had been "rotated" off. The significant change was the replacement of the "militant" Florida Black female, Francina Thomas. Charlotte Dominick of Birmingham, Alabama, a member of both commissions said, "Francina was fantastic. She asked questions no one else was willing to ask. She probably was replaced by Griffin Bell because they thought she had an axe that is being both a woman and a Black." Ulrick Lincoln, one time a lawyer in the Department of Justice replaced Francina Thomas. In 1979 Lincoln is a member of a large Tampa law firm.

Nevertheless, Janie felt good about her chances. Again she was the single woman to apply from Alabama. Women were so anxious to see her chosen that she looked for no competition from her home state. The kudoes came fast.

From a legal scholar: "Justice Shores has the ability to isolate and discard the minutiae of a lawsuit and focus on the crucial issues which must be confronted. More importantly she has the unparalleled capacity to appreciate the logical and practical ramifications of her decisions".

Without the legal gobble-de-gook, a lawyer who had practiced before the court: "What a penetrating mind. She sees right through the bullshit into the heart of the matter".

Then in mid-January 1979, the legendary "real" governor of Alabama federal Judge Frank Johnson, entered the race. Johnson and Shores were thick as clabber. When Janie was a poor, scrawny, teen-ager riding the bus from Loxley to Mobile, Wallace Johnson, brother to Frank, was in the law firm which gave her a job. A Johnson sister married a cousin of Janie's in 1955 and the friendship between the future judges, Johnson and Shores, began in earnest.

"I love Frank," says Janie. "When I heard he had applied, I called him and said I thought I ought to get out and work for him. He said, 'No, don't do that, Janie. Stay in'. After I hung up I wondered why he hadn't called me."

She went to see her old friend, Attorney General Griffin Bell. He had seemed genuinely grieved that she struck out the first time, even telling her that he had replaced the "militant" Black woman who had given her trouble. He did not tell her that Francina Thomas' replacement would be the one to do her in. "The President wants to see women and minorities on the list," he told her.

A few days before the February meeting, Ulrick Lincoln called Janie. He told her that he had received a letter alluding to a conflict of interest on her part in a legal matter involving her husband, James Shores, Jr.

"I thought it was decent of him to warn me," she said. "He advised me to be prepared to be questioned by the commission on the allegations. I called the lawyers in the case and was assured that I had at no time intervened nor was my name a part of the case in any way. I was not told who originated the letter. It was not until later that I found out the letter was from George Lewis Bailes."

Bob Vance picked Bailes to succeed him as Chairman of the Democratic Party. They were old and trusted friends.

Bailes is a real estate man and a former Alabama State Senator with a long smoldering vendetta against James Shores. Shores reciprocates, even going to the extreme in challenging Bailes' Party seat in the 1978 elections. The letter went to only the three corporate lawyers on the commission. Justice Shores was questioned extensively by the commission members on the case in which her husband was a party, but she was not. It does not appear that any of the male candidates were interrogated about their wives' possible irregularities.

Bailes says that he wrote the letter as a private citizen not as Party Chairman. In the public eye there is not a dime's worth of difference. Women had already taken his number when he came out on television in 1978 against the Equal Rights Amendment. This attack on Janie's integrity incensed fair-minded people all over the state. The letter writer did not say why he chose the three members to receive the letter nor did he divulge his motives.

Apparently Bailes' letter did not cut any ice with the commission but did contribute additional fuel for the fire that would consume Janie. The real screw was at the top. Despite the continuous extravagant presidential pleas to choose women and minorities for the list, the commission seemed to hear a different order. Florida and Georgia dominated in the membership of the eleven member group with two from Alabama and one from Mississippi. The Georgians were reportably well-schooled. It was noticed that the commission president, Dubose Ausley, a Floridian, when stuck on a point quizzically turned to the Georgian end of the table. The surprise was Ulrick Lincoln, the swing vote. He voted not only against Janie, but his Black brothers as well.

Court watchers surmise that despite the Carter-Bell protestations on democratizing the list, the actuality was too hot to handle. Frank Johnson was all along the object of their affections. To put the popular Janie on the list and then bump her would offend all those uppity women out there and Carter had enough trouble in 1980. Griffin Bell's finger prints were on the glass. He had restructured the 1976 commission and Ulrick Lincoln had come right out of his shop.

Reaction to the list of all White males was swift. David Cohen, top dog at Common Cause, the people's Lobby, presumptiously asserted that "no woman or Black would feel the least rejected if Carter passed over them in favor of Johnson."

Judith Crittenden, Birmingham attorney and member of the Alabama Women's Political Caucus took another view. At a press conference she expressed "shock and disappointment" over the commission's failure to include either a woman or a Black among the nominations. "Women's groups are particularly disappointed in the list of White candidates in the light of the President's mandate and the presence of highly qualified minority and female applicants."

Of course, every Black and White person in the race from Alabama knew the game was over when the giant, Frank Johnson, caught the ball. The only faint hope was the possibility of a second circuit judgeship for Alabama which did not materialize. The point in this bit of duplicity on the part of the President and his people is that women took Carter seriously when he said he wanted a selection free of political influence (with a qualified female candidate, a second judgeship seemed in the cards.) As usual, we were naive.

The district judgeships in Alabama are now over. The nominating commission for these positions did select two women for the list. Neither was chosen by the Senators, possibly because neither was as qualified as one of the other two women not chosen. But this time, Blacks got their chance with two newly created federal judgeships. Maybe next time we women will get ours. I wouldn't bet on it.

At the time of this writing, Marie Stokes Jemison was a free-lance writer living in Birmingham, Alabama, actively working for the ERA.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Community Involvement in Federal Judical Selection in the Carter Years - The Georgia Experience

In 1976, Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter argued that judges should be selected on the basis of merit alone; that panels of lawyers and laymen should be appointed to suggest qualified nominees. This was at a time when there were no judges of color on Georgia’s federal courts.

With the Presidency and the Congress in the hands of a single party for the first time in several years, Congress in 1977 enacted the Omnibus Judgeship Act, which created 152 new federal judgeships, which resulted the largest one-shot increase in the nation’s history up to that time.  The Act also empowered the Administration to establish “standards and guidelines” for choosing federal district judges, including a guideline that urged the appointment of more African-American and female judges.  While the Justice Department emphasized that the Act merely established “guidelines,” the President urged individual Senators to set up merit selection commissions, and the Office of White House Counsel was fairly aggressive in urging the consideration of candidates from diverse backgrounds.
President Carter was ultimately called upon to fill six positions on the Northern District of Georgia, and there was considerable public involvement in the discussions leading to the filling of these positions. 
In 1978, the Executive Committee of Atlanta’s Gate City Bar Association spent considerable effort raising awareness about the total lack of African-American federal judges in the Deep South, and the suggestion soon began to take hold that at least one of the Atlanta appointees should be an African-American.  The Presidents of the Gate City Bar Association and the Georgia Conference of Black Lawyers traveled to Washington to meet with Deputy Attorney General Michael Eagan who, within the Justice Department, had the responsibility for coordinating the judicial selection process.  In this meeting, Egan felt the need to look outside the Northern District of Georgia for qualified candidates, suggesting that the President of the Georgia Conference should relocate to Atlanta from Augusta, or that a prominent State Representative should relocate to Atlanta from Savannah.  Among Atlanta’s majority bar, there was considerable sentiment that one of the appointees should be African-American, and that that the appointment should go to one of the very few African-American partners in a majority law firm. 
Among community-based groups within the African American community there was considerable feeling that, because the community was so highly diverse, there should be more than one African-American appointee.  Moreover, prevailing community-based sentiment was that the appointees should be individuals who had paid their “dues” by serving the community.  Many who shared this sentiment urged the appointment of Horace T. Ward.  Ward had been the first plaintiff to challenge segregation at the University of Georgia, had been part of the legal team that brought an end to that segregation, and had been part of the legal team which brought an end to the all-white jury pools that existed in some Georgia counties.  He had been the First African-American to serve on what was then called the Civil Court of Fulton County, and the first African-American to serve on the Superior Court of Fulton County.  He was known to agonize over sentencing decisions and, among all of his colleagues on the Fulton Superior Court, he had the lowest reversal rate.  He had been the second African-American to serve in the Georgia State Senate since reconstruction, and one of his State Senate colleagues was now President of the United States. 
Both of Georgia’s Senators frequently reached out to members of the community to gauge community sentiment with respect to these judicial appointments, either directly or through members of their respective staffs (including Curtis Atkinson from the staff of Senior Senator Herman Talmadge, and Tommy Dortch from the staff of Junior Senator Sam Nunn). Senator Talmadge had served as Governor at the time of Horace Ward’s unsuccessful application to the University of Georgia.  In a meeting with the President of the Gate City Bar Association, Senator Talmadge made it clear that he and Judge Ward had some "unfinished business" to take care of, and that the pending judicial appointments presented a suitable opportunity to take care of it.
In 1979, Atlanta hosted a meeting of the National Bar Association's Judicial Council, which was then chaired by Judge Ward. The luncheon speaker for the meeting was the American Bar Association's Immediate Past President William B. Spann, Jr., who took the occasion to urge the appointment of Judge Ward to the federal district court in Atlanta.
Later that year, Judge Ward became the only person of color to be nominated and confirmed to Georgia’s federal courts under President Carter.  In the neighboring State of Alabama, President Carter appointed two judges of color.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Carter Approach to Crafting An Open and Transparent Judicial Selection Process

"Law: Here Come the Judges"
From Time Magazine
Monday, December 11, 1978
Who should choose them—and how?
Under U.S. law, the President picks federal judges with the advice and consent of the Senate. Under a practice known quaintly as senatorial courtesy, the process has traditionally worked the other way around. A Senator can blackball a nominee to the federal bench in his home state simply by returning a "blue slip" to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate colleagues invariably honor the blue slip, so Presidents long ago learned to let Senators do the choosing.
Not Jimmy Carter. Federal judges are too important to be political plums, Carter argued in his 1976 presidential campaign, and should be selected on the basis of "merit" alone. How? By appointing panels of lawyers and laymen to suggest qualified nominees. By whom is the final choice made? The President, of course.
The questions of who should pick federal judges and how merit should be made the standard have never been as hotly debated or as important as now. Last October Congress passed the Omnibus Judgeship Act, creating 152 new federal judgeships, the largest one-shot increase ever. Given normal turnover on the bench, half of the nation's 643 federal appeals and district judges will owe their jobs to Carter by the end of his term in 1980. Says Leonard Janofsky, American Bar Association president-elect: "No modern American President has had such an opportunity to mold the shape and character of the law in our justice system."
That is, if Congress lets him. Even before Carter took office, he got Mississippi's formidable James Eastland, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to agree that federal appeals judges should be nominated by merit commissions. Eastland also promised that his committee would go along with the President's choices. But he balked when it came to the more numerous federal district judges. Instead of a Mississippi commission coming up with five names for a judgeship and the President choosing one, Eastland reportedly told Attorney General Griffin Bell: "I'll hand you a slip of paper with one name on it, and that'll be the judge."
Carter was left trying to persuade individual Senators to set up merit commissions. So far, Senators in 18 states have agreed. The Omnibus Judgeship Act empowers the Administration to establish "standards and guidelines" for choosing federal district judges. But as Attorney General Bell cautions, "They're not mandatory. It's more of a friendly persuasion operation."
A growing number of Senators are neither friendly nor persuaded. Missouri's Thomas Eagleton named three Missourians, without any merit commission and without inviting applications, despite Carter's urging of an open process. Carter and the Senate Judiciary Committee are left in an awkward position: If the Administration does not accept Eagleton's nominees, will the Judiciary Committee follow senatorial courtesy and reject anyone that Carter nominates instead for the Missouri spots? Says Bell: "Well, we plan to have a talk with the Senator." Virginia's Harry Byrd dutifully followed the open process by appointing two panels to nominate candidates for four new judgeships. The commission chose ten white males, prompting Associate Attorney General Michael Egan to point to a guideline that urges more blacks and women for the bench. Byrd stood by his list. Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen refused to appoint a central nominating committee to consider candidates, preferring to rely on the advice of several different groups. Yet he paid close heed to Texas demographics: his ten choices include two women, one Mexican American and one black. Maryland's Senator Paul Sarbanes flatly refused to use any commissions. Though he invited "suggestions" from the public, Sarbanes proclaimed that he had the responsibility to "advise" the President by making the nominations himself. Editorialized the Washington Post: That's not "advising," that's "telling."
Perhaps the most articulate Senate critic of the commission system is Illinois' Adlai Stevenson, who also refused to follow Carter guidelines. The problem, according to Stevenson, is not in finding qualified people, but persuading them to accept the hard work and financial sacrifice of being a judge. Says Stevenson: "Great judges don't answer newspaper advertisements. They have to be sought out, and commissions can't do that."
Stevenson's warnings are borne out in part by the workings of one model nominating commission, that of Senator Edward Kennedy, the Judiciary Committee's new chairman. Few doubt the qualifications of the nominees picked last week by Kennedy's Massachusetts commission: a Harvard law professor, two state superior court judges (one is black) and a woman lawyer. But some desirable candidates dropped out when told they had to appear before the commission; they did not want to expose themselves to public scrutiny and possible rejection.
Stevenson argues that even though a Senator may not be the ideal person to choose a judge, any legislator at least represents and is accountable to the people. Besides, the quality of the present Senator-chosen federal bench is generally high, and some of the nation's most distinguished jurists had been politically active (including Hugo Black, Charles Evans Hughes, Louis Brandeis and John Marshall). Nor is politics ever going to be entirely expunged from judicial selection. The record of Democrat Jimmy Carter's own Administration is proof enough: of the 66 judges appointed since he took office, two are Republicans.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Quality of Justice Affects All of Us.

Georgia's Justice System only works if we have really smart and compassionate judges who are representative of the communities they serve.  But Georgia's courts are becoming less and less representative.
Fulton County is just one example: It has been more then ten years since the last person of color was appointed to this court. We are rapidly approaching the point where there will be no judges of color on this court. This will have a profound effect on the quality of justice.
Fortunately, this is something that the people can do something about.
2014 will be a big year for judicial elections. Advocacy for Action, a coalition of the State’s leading legal societies, has embarked on a mission to spread the word about the importance of judicial elections. 
It’s a mission that will require significant financial resources. Until now our effort has been sustained with substantial financial support from a small group of leading Georgia lawyers.
But to achieve our goal we need your help as well. We hope you will join us on this mission - because what’s at stake is nothing less than the quality of justice in the State.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Please Join us for a Breakfast Gathering in Support of a Diverse Judiciary.

African-American Attorney Summit and Leadership Breakfast
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Commerce Club
191 Peachtree St. NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
Please RSVP as soon as possible if you are able to attend
Hosted By:
Quinton  G. Washington, Melaniece McKnight, Ashley Bell, Chris Stewart, Tracee Benzo President of Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys, Reginald Lewis, Antavius Weems President of Georgia Association of African American Attorneys, Charles Johnson, William Boddie, Mawuli Davis
Suggested Donation $100, $250, and $500 with a $250 donation to host.
Host donations must be received by noon on Friday February 21, 2014

To host please contact Jeff Auerbach at or call 404-444-9577
Click here to Donate
Please note this event is closed to the press and the general public
Sponsored by Quinton G. Washington & Charles Johnson
[Click the Image to View the Video]

Please Join us for a Breakfast Gathering in Support of Judicial Diversity

African-American Attorney Summit and Leadership Breakfast
Tuesday February 25, 2014


Commerce Club
191 Peachtree St. NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
Please RSVP as soon as possible if you are able to attend

Hosted By:
Quinton  G. Washington, Melaniece McKnight, Ashley Bell, Chris Stewart, Tracee Benzo President of Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys, Reginald Lewis, Antavius Weems President of Georgia Association of African American Attorneys, Charles Johnson, William Boddie, Mawuli Davis

Suggested Donation $100, $250, and $500 with a $250 donation to host.

Host donations must be received by noon on Friday February 21, 2014

To host please contact Jeff Auerbach at or call 404-444-9577

Click here to Donate


Please note this event is closed to the press and the general public

Sponsored by Quinton G. Washington & Charles Johnson

[Click the Image to View the Video]

Friday, February 21, 2014

Critics Question Nominee's 'Bias'

Conservative views make him unsuitable as Obama nominee for U.S. judge, they say.
, Daily Report

 When federal judicial nominee Michael Boggs recounted bills he had sponsored as a Georgia legislator in a questionnaire for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, he sounded earnest and, occasionally, even a little dull.
But his list of legislation—which included strengthening the state's child pornography laws, rewriting the state Probate Code and requiring criminal background checks for bail bondsmen—didn't mention his sponsorship of far more controversial measures reflecting a conservative political agenda at odds with the president who has nominated him to the U.S. District Court.
Boggs, who served as a Democrat from 2001 to 2004 in the Georgia House of Representatives, made no mention of a resolution he introduced in the House in 2004 calling for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Speaking on the floor of the House, Boggs said the amendment was "premised on good conservative Christian values" and intended to guard against rulings by "activist judges" who might overturn a state law that already barred gay marriage.
Now a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, Boggs also failed to mention his sponsorship of bills that remain anathema to progressive Democrats—enacting more limits on abortion and placing the Ten Commandments in Georgia's 159 county courthouses—and his vote to retain the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag.
A lawyer from the southeast Georgia district Boggs used to represent said Boggs was merely reflecting his conservative, "Bible Belt" constituency by promoting those legislative efforts. She and another attorney who also tried cases before Boggs when he was a Superior Court judge in Waycross said Boggs would have no trouble separating his advocacy role as a legislator from his mandate as a judge to fairly and impartially administer the law.
But Boggs' legislative record has provided fodder for more than two dozen national progressive and civil rights organizations that are urging the Democratic-controlled Senate to reject his nomination.
Boggs could not be reached for comment and—like other federal judicial nominees—has avoided comment on issues associated with his nomination.

Package deal

Boggs' nomination is part of a package deal that the White House cut with Georgia's two Republican senators last year. That deal allowed U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss to name one nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and three of four nominees to the district court.
In return, Isakson and Chambliss have reportedly agreed to lift their objections to Atlanta litigator Jill Pryor, whose nomination to the Eleventh Circuit they have stalled for two years. Pryor's nomination has been championed by her longtime law partner, Emmet Bondurant, the former chairman of Georgia Common Cause who has challenged Republican-sponsored measures such as Georgia's voter photo ID law.
The deal also has Georgia's senators agreeing to the nomination of Leigh Martin May, whose candidacy for the federal bench they first rejected in 2009. May, a co-founder of the Red Clay Democrats, is a law partner of James Butler Jr., one of the state's most prominent plaintiffs attorneys.
A spokesman for the progressive group Democracy for America dismissed the idea that Boggs' nomination was a necessary compromise.
"We understand there are times you do some kind of horse-trading in politics," said Neil Sroka. "But there is a difference in horse-trading and caving on core values. This is an example of the White House caving and giving far too much to the right in a lifetime judicial appointment."
"From everything we have learned about him," Sroka continued, "he [Boggs] is a candidate that the right wing has been desperate to have on the federal judiciary."

Abortion, religion and race

Among the bills Boggs sponsored as a legislator but omitted from his Senate Judiciary questionnaire was one establishing a "pro-life" license plate that would have generated funds for crisis pregnancy centers that didn't provide abortion counseling or abortion-related procedures. Other bills he sponsored would have required minors to seek permission of a parent or guardian before they could obtain an abortion, even in cases of incest and rape, and required that a minor seeking an abortion also must be accompanied by a parent or guardian with a state-issued photo identification.
Last week, NARAL Pro-Choice America launched a campaign to stop Boggs' confirmation. "We look to our judicial branch to protect and uphold our values and freedoms," Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the Daily Report. Boggs' legislative record, she added, "shows that he will push his personal agenda instead of listening to the cases in front of him without bias." Action this week launched a Twitter campaign, #No2Boggs, to defeat his confirmation. In conjunction with the Twitter campaign, the organization posted on its website an open letter to President Barack Obama, calling Boggs' nomination "an extreme step backwards" and asking the president to withdraw it.
Another bill that is generating concern is one he sponsored with then-House Minority Leader Glenn Richardson and four other lawmakers, calling for the display of the Ten Commandments in all of Georgia's 159 county courthouses. The bill, which said the display was also to include copies of the Mayflower Compact and the Declaration of Independence, authorized the state attorney general to defend the counties against federal lawsuits challenging the practice as unconstitutional. That bill included language that "Biblical literacy contributed importantly in the development of American law and constitutionalism."
A spokeswoman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State said what the organization has uncovered so far about Boggs has already caused "great concern."
Along with the Ten Commandments bill, Maggie Garrett noted that Boggs backed a measure asking the U.S. Congress to affirm that the U.S. is a Judeo-Christian nation and a resolution in support of "In God We Trust" as the national motto.
Those bills show "a fundamental misreading of the U.S. Constitution, which is not really a trait you want in a federal judge," said Garrett, a former lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. "At this point, we have reservations and concerns, but we are still examining the record."
Boggs' civil rights record and his 2001 vote to retain the Confederate battle emblem as part of Georgia's state flag have also drawn the ire of the NAACP, Georgia's Democratic congressmen, and a coalition of the state's minority bar associations. At a Dec. 23 news conference in Atlanta, state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said that the NAACP's examination of Boggs' legislative record "shows that Michael Boggs is on the wrong side of history. The votes we have looked at tell us that Michael Boggs does not understand the idea of inclusion, the idea of diversity, the idea of simple justice."

'Conservative judicial philosophy'

A 1990 graduate of Mercer University's Walter F. George School of Law, Boggs was in private practice from 1990 until 2004, first at McKenzie & McPhail and its successor, McKenzie, Martin, Taylor & McConnaughey in Atlanta, then at Thomas & Settle in Waycross, Landers & Boggs in Waycross, and as a sole practitioner.
After he was appointed to the Waycross Circuit Superior Court by Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2005, Boggs founded the circuit's drug court and served until 2012, when he was appointed to the Court of Appeals by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. For the past two years, Boggs has served as co-chairman of Deal's Council on Criminal Justice Reform.
"The judiciary continues to endure criticism, fairly earned in some cases, of abrogating their constitutionally created authority by issuing decisions that venture into policy making," Boggs wrote. "Partisan political campaigns are increasingly politicizing our judiciary, in part because of judicial decisions that have ignored or violated the basic tenets of the judiciary, that policy making is the sole province of a duly elected citizen legislature."
Blackshear attorney John Thigpen, who told the Daily Report this week that he probably has tried more cases, both criminal and civil, in front of Boggs than any other lawyer, said Boggs' political stances while a state legislator would not affect his ability to be fair on the bench. "I don't think that would interfere one bit with him doing the right thing," Thigpen said. "He's a man's man, OK? He knows what to do and how to do it. I've been practicing law 35 years. As far as I'm concerned, he's top of the line."
Thigpen said that Boggs represented his district while he was a Georgia legislator and that he thought highly of him in that role as well. "He was conscientious. He knew what his constituents wanted," Thigpen said. "We're in the Bible Belt down here. … I think he was doing what his constituency wanted him to do. And that was his job."
Thigpen also dismissed criticism that legislation Boggs had sponsored might signal he would entertain a bias should those matters be litigated in his courtroom. "He will look way beyond that," Thigpen said.
Brunswick attorney James Durham, a former member of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission and former president of the State Bar of Georgia, also defended Boggs. He told the Daily Report this week that he has tried cases in front of Boggs in the Waycross Judicial Circuit, saying, "I have never seen anything but complete fairness from Mike Boggs in a courtroom."
"I don't know that you can equate what somebody did as a representative," with his role as a judge, Durham said. "That's a different job. That's representing a constituency. I assume, in most cases, people try to represent their constituencies as they think they would vote."
Durham added: "It doesn't have anything to do with how somebody would be on the bench as a judge and how they would apply the law. I have never seen anything that would indicate to me that Judge Boggs would have a personal opinion in his rulings."

Doesn't reflect 'Obama's values'

State Rep. Karla Drenner, the first openly lesbian woman elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, served with Boggs during his four years there. She told the Daily Report, "He doesn't depict any of the values the Obama administration stands for. … I don't know why we would want to appoint someone for life who doesn't share the visions, the values that this current president has."
Drenner described Boggs as "a vocal opponent" of same-sex marriage and identified him as "the first Democrat to come out in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban it in Georgia. At the time, the state already had a law on the books barring same-sex marriage, and Drenner called the constitutional amendment "one of the most contentious issues" the legislature has faced.
Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, recorded the resulting debate on the resolution in February 2004, including Boggs' introductory speech, which she supplied to the Daily Report. In that speech, Boggs said, "It's my opinion, both as a Christian, as a lawyer and as a member of this House, that it's our opportunity to stand up in support of this resolution."
"I think it's important to recognize the dangers that we face with respect to activist judges, with respect to mayors who are operating in derogation of current state law," he continued.
"I submit to you that proposing a constitutional amendment that, in fact, mirrors the language, for the most part, that is ... codified in Georgia's Defense of Marriage Act will give us an additional safeguard," Boggs said, according to a transcript of Drenner's recording. "It will, in fact, prohibit state constitutional challenges to the proposition … that is outlined in Georgia law already. … I submit to you that whether you're a Democrat or whether you're a Republican, whether you're rural from a rural area, like myself, or whether you represent an urban area, we have opportunities seldom [seen] in my short tenure in the legislature to stand up for things that are commonsensical; things that are premised on good conservative Christian values, and, in this instance in particular, to support the sanctity of marriage. I'm going to ask all of you like me to support this proposition."
In recalling that debate, Drenner said, "I don't think that Judge Boggs, in this new capacity, would be any friend to the gay community or any other progressive agenda that the Obama administration has supported. … He's going to be part and parcel of the reason why the South won't move forward. Look at his history: no on same-sex marriage, no on a woman's right to choose, no on changing the flag."
That Boggs omitted from his Senate questionnaire his sponsorship of the socially conservative legislation "shows that he knew they are points of contention, and he has probably not changed his opinion," she said. "Either by omission or commission, it is still a lie."
At the December news conference, Fort said the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was part of a nationwide, and largely successful, push by "the far right of the Republican Party" to turn out the vote in 2004.
Last October, after the Daily Report identified Boggs as one of the possible nominees for the federal bench in Atlanta, Fort and representatives of several civil rights organizations in Georgia—including the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, the NAACP, and Georgia Women's Action for New Directions—voiced their objections to Boggs because in 2001 he had cast a vote to retain Georgia's old state flag, emblazoned with the Confederate battle emblem.
Boggs was one of 82 legislators, including current state Democratic Party chairman Dubose Porter, who voted not to strip the flag of its Confederate symbol.
At a news conference, Fort said, "We are very concerned that a judge, while a legislator, in the 21st century voted for the Confederate flag. It is reasonable for the public to be concerned about whether he is committed to fairness."
A coalition of African-American lawyers and bar associations in Georgia which also is opposed to Boggs has asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., for permission to testify in opposition to the slate of nominees at their confirmation hearings.
A committee spokeswoman told the Daily Report this week that those hearings have not been scheduled because neither Isakson or Chambliss have returned blue slips to the committee signaling their willingness to support the president's nominees and because committee Republicans are still reviewing background materials on the Georgia nominees. Spokeswomen for both Chambliss and Isakson could not be reached for comment.
U.S. Rep. David Scott, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Clayton, Cobb, Douglas, Fulton, Fayette and Henry counties, also has sought permission to testify at the Senate judicial confirmation hearings, and at a meeting earlier this month with the Congressional Black Caucus and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett challenged Jarrett and the White House to have Boggs' name withdrawn.
"Why should we have judges nominated for life who have such biases in their backgrounds," Scott said. "Sometimes it's better to have these positions vacant than to put these people in with prejudiced opinions against African-Americans, against gay people, against women's reproductive rights. … It can't stand. Georgia is better than that."