Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Invoking John Lewis' Moral Authority in favor of an Accountable Judiciary

Dear Congressman Lewis –

The most enduring legacy that any President can leave is in the judges he appoints.  However, anyone who voted for this President with the expectation that he would leave a legacy of progressive judges is in danger of being sorely disappointed.

President Obama has the opportunity to appoint two judges to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and as many as four to the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, with the advice and consent of the Senate.  In previous years Georgia’s Senators have come to our community for input on the candidates being considered for federal judgeships. But that has not happened with Georgia’s current Senators under this President. Yet the  President has apparently decided that the only way he can fill any of these vacancies is to accept a slate of nominees agreed to by Georgia’s Senators.

What kind of people are they?  To paraphrase Dr. King, the ultimate measure of a man of woman is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience but where she stands in times of challenge and controversy.

Where did Mark Cohen stand in times of challenge and controversy - when the State asked him to defend Georgia’s voter ID law?  He could have said – this law hurts people - this is a law that the State shouldn’t try to defend - He could have said my conscience won’t let me defend it.  Instead he took the case and defended the law and succeeded in having the law upheld.

Where did Michael Boggs stand in times of challenge and controversy - when he had the opportunity as a member of the General Assembly to vote for or against removing the Confederate battle emblem from the State Flag – the opportunity to make a statement about whether Georgia’s government was going to represent all of its citizens or just some of them?  He  voted to keep the confederate battle emblem on the state flag.

There are those who may say that Mark Cohen’s work on the voter ID bill was "just business" – that he was just representing a client - and the type of clients that he represents Is not something that should be held against him.  I would ask those people to tell that to Natasha Perdew Silas - whom the president previously nominated to the Northern District of Georgia, whom the senators rejected, apparently because of the types of clients she represented – people who were accused of crimes.  Unlike Mark Cohen, Ms. Silas was a public defender and was not in a position to pick and choose her clients.

There are those who may say that Michael Boggs was only one of 82 legislators who voted against changing Georgia’s flag and that, in doing so, he was merely representing the views of his constituents.  I would ask those people if they are saying that Michael Boggs is someone who makes decisions on the basis of anything other than what he thinks is right?  I would ask them, who were his constituents, anyway?  Actually, they were the citizens of Waycross, Georgia, in Ware County, in the Southern District of Georgia.  Someone who actually lived in the Northern District of Georgia – someone who actually represented the views of people who live in the Northern District of Georgia – might have voted differently.  This illustrates the importance of having judges who are representative of the communities that they serve.

There are those who may say that there are other persons who are part of this deal whom they like.  To them I would say that what is being proposed is a package deal – that, under this deal, the price for having any new judges at all is having  judges included in the package who have already shown us where they stand.

The President is apparently being advised that this deal is worth the price, but I strongly disagree.

Congressman Lewis, you may be the only person who has the moral authority to convince the President that he shouldn’t accept a package that rewards a champion of voter suppression, having so famously risked your life to enhance voting rights for all citizens.

In this time of challenge and controversy, I urge you to do more than simply to protect the President from criticism by your constituents.  I urge you to use your moral authority to convince the President to leave a legacy in Georgia of judges of whom we can all be proud.  Ask the President to reject this deal and embrace a more traditional process of judicial selection – a process in which the voices of your constituents, and the people of the Northern District of Georgia, are heard.

Charles Johnson | Holland & Knight
1201 West Peachtree Street, N.E., One Atlantic Center, Suite 2000 | Atlanta GA 30309
Phone 404.817.8530 | Fax 404.881.0470
charles.johnson@hklaw.com | www.hklaw.com

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