Last fall, a dozen Texas abortion clinics closed after a Fifth Circuit Court ruling upheld a new Texas law that required doctors at the clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals—despite there being no medical rationale for the decision. Hundreds of women were immediately left without the appointments they were relying on to exercise their constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies, and thousands more were left with zero local options for abortion care.
Judicial appointments to the federal bench may be the most significant legacy a president leaves behind. These lifetime appointees have incredible power and often provide the final word on questions of constitutional law, including those of equality, rights, and justice. This makes it critical for progressives to support the president when he nominates qualified candidates to fill these spots, especially given the intransigence the GOP has shown in slowing down the nomination process. Although rules reform made this task easier last year, Republican senators remain steadfastly opposed to cooperating in filling our nation’s empty benches.
But that truth does not excuse the deal President Barack Obama made with Georgia senators to put nominee Michael Boggs on the federal bench for the rest of his career.
Boggs is one of Obama’s picks to fill a court vacancy in the Northern District of Georgia. Boggs used to serve in the Georgia state House of Representatives, where he racked up a troubling record when it comes to the basic rights of all Americans. He co-sponsored two bills that would make one of the most anti-choice states in the country even more hostile to reproductive rights. One bill would have established “Choose Life” license plates and funneled money to so-called crisis pregnancy centers that lie to women about their health care, and another would have made Georgia’s parental involvement law even stricter, putting young women’s health at risk.
Boggs also voted against marriage equality and voted to keep a Confederate emblem on the state flag despite the grave disrespect it showed to the state’s African-American community.
Connect the dots, and you have a troubling picture of a man with limited perspective about the impact of law on anyone whose life looks different from his own. The risk that he would be unable to remove these blinders and apply the law equally for all litigants is too high. As U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., explained of his opposition to Boggs, “The president is gone in 29 months. These individuals will be left on the courts to impact and affect all future generations.”
Last week, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler argued that we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and that putting Boggs in the mix helped move the process along. She points—correctly—to the role of the U.S. Senate in making it difficult to move these nominations.
There’s a larger principle at stake here, however: whether or not these lifetime appointments to the federal court should be fully vetted by the Americans they seek to serve and whose lives they hold in the balance. Giving Americans a voice in the process to demand that judges, wherever they are from, uphold the basic freedoms and equality enshrined in our founding documents is good for our democracy and for our country. That’s why two weeks ago 27 women’s rights, civil rights, and LGBT groups signed a letter asking the Senate Judiciary Committee—where this nomination now rests—to oppose Boggs’ nomination.
This president should be lauded for all he has done for women. The first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Affordable Care Act has done more than any other bill in decades to advance women’s health. But a lifetime appointment for Michael Boggs would risk not just undoing some of that progress, but also upholding many of the regressive and outdated laws being passed right now in states with far-right legislatures.
We’re looking at decades of litigation around our basic rights and freedoms. Laws such as the one in Texas that has caused so many clinics to shut their doors. Obstacles such as mandatory ultrasounds or waiting periods before an abortion that serve zero medical purpose. Outright bans on abortion as early as six weeks—before many women even know they are pregnant. As states continue to pass these attacks on women’s reproductive rights, it will be up to the courts to protect them.
We cannot put our fundamental rights in the hands of someone who has a record of working to undermine those very rights. When our representatives in the Senate take a close look at Michael Boggs’ record, their choice is clear: They must oppose his nomination.
Ilyse Hogue is the President of NARAL Pro-Choice America and a columnist at The Nation.