By R. Robin McDonald
Daily Report, January 7, 2014
A Georgia Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives is seeking permission to testify at the Senate confirmation hearings for six nominees to federal judicial posts in Georgia, saying outraged constituents claim the candidates "are unrepresentative of the demographics and values of the state."
Rep. David Scott, whose 13th District includes parts of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton and Henry counties, called the selection process "an abomination" for remaining secret until an announcement was made the Friday before Christmas, "an opportune time to avoid negative publicity,
In a letter delivered Friday to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Scott asked to testify at hearings for two nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and four other candidates for posts in the Northern District of Georgia. Scott's goal: to share "very important and critical background information" with the committee about the nominees themselves as well as how the state's congressional Democrats were "shut out from any input in the selection process by the White House."
He wrote, "We must not allow lifetime appointed judges to be rammed through the hearing process without sufficient input from the people who will be affected by their future judicial actions."
Scott's letter to Leahy also indicated that confirmation hearings for Georgia's nominees could begin soon. A committee spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.
Scott's letter was sent two weeks after he and fellow House Democrats from Georgia, John Lewis and Hank Johnson, called on President Barack Obama to withdraw the nominations. They argued that the slate of candidates lacked diversity, as only one of the six is an African-American. They also claimed the majority of the candidates failed to reflect a more progressive judicial philosophy.
At a Dec. 23 news conference, Lewis said he was prepared to testify against two of the president's district court nominees, Judge Michael Boggs of the Georgia Court of Appeals and Troutman Sanders partner Mark Cohen. "It's not too late to turn this train around," Lewis said.
Lewis later told a USA Today columnist, "It's not easy to stand up to your president and say you got it wrong. But we've got to look beyond the next three years. These people are going to get a lifetime appointment."
Lewis' spokeswoman could not be reached Monday for comment.
Michael Andel, Scott's chief of staff, told the Daily Report on Monday that Scott's desire to testify against a Democratic president's nominees "is unusual. I don't know if it's happened before." Scott was prompted to do so, he said, by a groundswell of outrage and concern from constituents following the White House's Dec. 19 announcements.
The White House has nominated U.S. District Chief Judge Julie Carnes, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Eleventh Circuit. She joins nominee Jill Pryor, a partner at Atlanta's Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore whose nomination has been stalled for nearly two years.
In addition to Cohen and Boggs, who was appointed to the Court of Appeals by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, the White House also nominated Leigh Martin May—a partner at Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer—and DeKalb County State Court Judge Eleanor Ross, who is also a Deal appointee and the only African-American nominee.
The slate of nominees was a compromise the White House carved out with Georgia's two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, who blocked Pryor's nomination by refusing to return blue slips to the Judiciary Committee, a Senate courtesy that gives senators virtual veto power over their home state's judicial nominations and one that Leahy scrupulously follows.
Chambliss and Isakson also refused to return blue slips for attorney Natasha Perdew Silas, a public defender whom the president had nominated along with U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Walker as part of an earlier package deal to fill two vacancies on Northern Georgia's District Court. The nominations of the two women, both African-Americans, were withdrawn by the president at the end of 2011.
The president announced the newest nominations despite concerns that Scott and Georgia's other four Democratic congressmen had raised in a letter to the White House last September and in a subsequent meeting with White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler. At that meeting, Scott told the Daily Report on Monday, the congressmen were informed that "the deed was done."
Scott said Monday that he expects Lewis, to whom the president awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, will join him in testifying at the confirmation hearings along with the Rev. C.T. Vivian and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, whom the president also has presented with the freedom medal for their civil rights work.
Scott said that if Leahy grants him permission to testify, he intends to talk about Boggs' voting record as a former Democratic state legislator from Waycross. Scott singled out Boggs' 2001 vote not to change the state's flag, which then was embedded with the Confederate battle emblem.
He also pointed to the former legislator's votes authorizing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Georgia; his cosponsorship of legislation requiring parental notification before young women could obtain an abortion; and his support of special "Choose Life" auto tags.
The congressman also took issue with Cohen's defense of the state's voter photo ID law as a special assistant state attorney general, calling it a form of voter suppression. Cohen, a former assistant attorney general and former counsel to Democratic Gov. Zell Miller, was hired to defend the law by the state's first black attorney general, Thurbert Baker.
"These attitudes … are not reflective of the population of Georgia," Scott insisted. "For the president of the United States to put these people in these lifetime positions is wrong. … This is a bad deal; a terrible, tragic mistake."
Boggs and Cohen have not responded to the criticism, the standard protocol required by the White House for judicial nominees. They could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Scott said that since the president "capitulated" to the state's Republican senators, he is turning to the Senate Judiciary Committee for help in short-circuiting at least some of the nominations while protesting a deal in which the state's Democratic congressional delegation "had no say and on top of that were shut out."
"Sometimes it's better to have these positions vacant than to put people in with prejudiced opinions against African-Americans, against gay people, against women's reproductive rights," Scott said. "These attitudes are not reflective of the population of Georgia."
"We cannot allow, to sit on the courts for life, people who believe in the Confederate flag in this day and time" with the hatred and bigotry it has come to symbolize, he added. "It can't stand. Georgia is better than that."