Tuesday, May 20, 2014

John Lewis Speaks Against Boggs' Nomination

R. Robin McDonald

Daily Report, May 19, 2014

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the dean of Georgia's congressional Democrats, announced in strong language today that he would not support the confirmation of Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs to the federal bench in Atlanta.

Lewis urged his colleagues in the U.S. Senate—some of whom had said they would seek Lewis' counsel on the matter—to vote against Boggs' confirmation.

"His record is in direct opposition to everything I have stood for during my career, and his misrepresentation of that record to the committee is even more troubling," Lewis said in a statement, headlined "Rep. John Lewis Does Not Support the Confirmation of Judge Michael Boggs."

"The testimony suggests Boggs may allow his personal political leanings to influence his impartiality on the bench," Lewis said.

Lewis issued the statement less than 24 hours after Rep. David Scott, a Democrat who represents Jonesboro and Smyrna, told the Huffington Post that if Lewis were to support Boggs' confirmation he would have "betrayed Georgia."

"He is speaking for the White House and not women, African-Americans or gays with this new position, and he has turned his back on his own supporters," Scott told the online newspaper on Sunday.

Scott talked to the Huffington Post after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that despite serious concerns about Boggs, she was swayed by Lewis's private assurance that Boggs was part of "a good ticket" of nominees.

Critics have attacked Boggs for his votes while a Georgia legislator to restrict abortions, post a public registry of doctors who performed them, bar same-sex marriage in the state and retain the Confederate battle emblem as part of the state flag.

Feinstein told CNN that she was not ready to announce how she would vote on Boggs because of her conversation with Lewis, insisting, "I know he has some very strong support, even in the African-American community in the state of Georgia."

Last winter, that support did not include Lewis, along with two fellow recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Dr. Joseph Lowery and the Rev. C.T. Vivian. Like Lewis, they are former leaders of the civil rights movement.

Lewis said at a Dec. 23 news conference after the President nominated Boggs as part of a package deal with Georgia's Republican senators that he intended to testify against Boggs at his confirmation hearing.

On Monday, Lewis said, "I have fought long and hard and even put my life on the line for the cause of equal rights and social justice. My commitment to these ideals has never changed, and my record is solid and unwavering. I take a back-seat to no one and have been at the forefront for decades in defense of the right to marry, a women's right to choose, and the imperative of non-violence as a means of dissent. I have worked tirelessly to rid Georgia, the South, and this nation from the stain of racial discrimination in any form, including the display of Confederate emblems in the Georgia state flag. I am not about to change that position now."

Lewis said that he had of late refrained from making public statements about Boggs "out of respect for my colleagues and the Senate process. I believe it is important to allow each candidate to be evaluated according to his or her own merits and to allow the Senate judicial nomination process to take its course. This willingness to permit due process is all that I have indicated in any conversation I may have had with my colleagues." But, added, "I did not at any time indicate my support for the Boggs nomination or say that he had the backing of the African-American community in Georgia."

Boggs defended or explained his legislative record by saying that he was carrying out the wishes of his constituents in voting for bills he told the committee were "ill-conceived," "inappropriate" or a violation of his own conscience.

Boggs was also taken to task by Democratic committee members for omitting any mention in his Senate questionnaire of his support as a legislator for a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, his votes on the Georgia flag and for abortion bills supported by Georgia's pro-life movement.

The nominee also was challenged by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., whether the judge's re-election campaign's contributions to Georgia Conservatives in Action, which is incorporated as a tax-exempt social welfare organization, may have been a violation of the Georgia Code of Judicial Ethics.

On Monday, Scott's office issued a statement praising Lewis for his announcement. "This statement by Rep. Lewis is wonderful," Scott's statement said. "It clears any doubt to the Senate that Georgia Democrats oppose the Boggs nomination. We are all united against his views on the Confederate flag, anti-choice laws, and LGBT progress. We ask the Senate to reject him. There are thousands of qualified attorneys in Georgia who could be considered."

Boggs was part of a deal that senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss struck with the White House to end a political impasse that had left three seats vacant on the U.S. District Court bench in Atlanta and two vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. There are now seven nominees from Georgia awaiting action from Georgia.

Last Thursday, Isakson told The Huffington Post that the deal he and Chambliss struck that allowed them to name four of what were then six open slots included a provision that the Judiciary Committee "would hear all seven of them and the committee would vote whichever way they vote."

Isakson's office would not elaborate on any understanding he might have as to how the vote would take place and whether the nominees would be voted on as a bloc rather than individually. On Monday, an Isakson spokeswoman referred the Daily Report's questions to the Judiciary Committee.

There an aide referred the Daily Report to a statement that Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., issued midway through Boggs' confirmation hearing last week.

In that statement, Leahy said, "There is no 'deal' negotiated with me as chairman. ... The constitutional responsibility of advice and consent resides with each individual senator, and there is no such thing as a binding deal that negates each senator's responsibility to determine the fitness of a judicial nominee for a lifetime appointment."

A Chambliss spokeswoman said the senator does not comment on judicial nominees.

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