Claims of lack of diversity and flawed process are behind request to President Obama to withdraw six names.
December 26, 2013
Four Georgia Democratic congressmen on Monday called on President Barack Obama to withdraw his nominations for six federal judgeships in the state, claiming the White House's selection process was flawed and resulted in too little racial diversity.
Representatives John Lewis, David Scott and Hank Johnson, all African-American legislators for the Atlanta area, made their views plain at a Monday morning press conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. They said Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. of southwest Georgia supported their efforts.
Joined by other African-American leaders who opposed the slate of nominees—all but one of them white—the congressmen focused on two district court nominees. They targeted Troutman Sanders partner Mark Cohen for his defense of the state's voter photo ID law as a special assistant attorney general and Judge Michael Boggs of the Georgia Court of Appeals for stances he took in the General Assembly against abortion rights and gay rights and for a state flag containing a Confederate symbol.
The Rev. C.T. Vivian—whom Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom last month—called for a national campaign, saying the message against the nominees must reach "every street corner" and "every TV set."
Lewis said he was prepared to testify against Boggs and Cohen before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, calling them "unfit" for the federal posts.
"We believe it is not too late to turn this train around," said Lewis.
Obama's nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit are Bondurant Mixson & Elmore partner Jill Pryor, who was nominated to the post nearly two years ago, and Northern District Chief Judge Julie Carnes. The district court nominees, which includes a nominee to replace Carnes if her promotion is confirmed, are Boggs, Cohen, Leigh Martin May of Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer and Judge Eleanor Ross of DeKalb County State Court.
Ross, a former Fulton County assistant district attorney who was tapped by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to be a judge in DeKalb, is the only African-American among the six nominees.
In September, Lewis, Johnson, Scott, Bishop and Rep. John Barrow wrote to White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler about the slate of then-prospective nominees that reportedly had been agreed to by the state's Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. The letter said the congressmen were "disappointed, shocked, and chagrined" when they learned of the White House's willingness to consider a package deal of prospective nominees so lacking in diversity and that had been put together without their knowledge.
Holland & Knight partner Charles Johnson, coconvenor of a group of African-American bar associations that orchestrated Monday's event, complained that the process for selecting nominees for the Northern District and Eleventh Circuit was "selective, secretive, exclusionary and highly flawed." He said Obama should start over with a more open process.
With no Georgia Democrat in the Senate, which must confirm judicial nominees, the process by which Obama seeks recommendations in the state has been vague. In his first term, Georgia's Democratic congressmen appointed a screening committee to make suggestions on district court judgeships in secret.
Lewis said a list of recommended nominees provided to the White House by the Georgia Democratic congressional delegation apparently had been "discarded" by the state's senators. He said he didn't want to identify any of their suggested nominees, although he described a woman that appeared to be V. Natasha Perdew Silas. Obama nominated her to the district court in January 2011 but dropped the nomination after the senators objected.
Asked Monday if the congressional panel should have been more transparent—such as publicizing the names of applicants and recommendations—Hank Johnson said the process is "discreet" but should "inclusive." A lawyer, Johnson declined to say whom he would like to see nominated, saying, "We're not looking to put people's aspirations out to the public view before they're actually nominated."
Scott criticized the nomination of Cohen in light of his legal defense of the voter ID law, which Scott said was targeted at suppressing African-American voters.
Emphasizing that both Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, are black, Scott said, "There is no hurt like hurt by the one you love."
He did not mention that Cohen had been appointed to defend the law by then-state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, also a black Democrat. Norman Underwood, the chairman of Governor Zell Miller's Judicial Nominating Commission and one of Cohen's law partners, has said that when Cohen served as Miller's executive counsel, he worked closely with the governor as Miller began a concerted effort to appoint what became an unprecedented number of African-Americans as judges across the state.
State Senator Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, took to the pulpit to highlight certain aspects of Boggs' record as a Democratic member of the state House of Representatives from Waycross for 2000 to 2004. Fort previously had publicized Boggs' 2001 vote to retain Georgia's old state flag, which was embedded with the Confederate battle emblem. On Monday he offered more research, saying Boggs had spoken in favor of the legislation that authorized the 2004 state referendum banning gay marriage and had sponsored anti-abortion legislation during the 2003-04 legislative session. Materials Fort distributed to the media showed Boggs sponsored bills, neither of which came to a vote that session, to strengthen the state's law requiring minors seeking an abortion to notify a parent or go before a judge and to create "Choose Life" license plates.
"Michael Boggs is on the wrong side of history," said Fort.
Federal judicial nominees generally do not comment pursuant to White House protocol, and neither Cohen nor Boggs could be reached for comment on Monday.