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Liberal revolt grows over Obama judges

A revolt against Obama's nominees to the federal bench in Georgia has spread from civil rights icons to the abortion rights movement.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) looks on during a news conference on Capitol Hill, on Jan. 16, 2014 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) looks on during a news conference on Capitol Hill, on Jan. 16, 2014 in Washington, DC.

A revolt against President Barack Obama's nominees to the federal bench in Georgia has spread from the civil rights icons who paved the way for Obama's presidency to the abortion rights movement.

The abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America last week announced its opposition to nominee Michael Boggs, joining a coalition of Democratic members of Congress from Georgia and celebrated civil rights leaders like Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, C.T. Vivian and Joseph Lowery. The group had already been calling for the president to withdraw Boggs, a former Democratic Georgia state representative, and Mark Cohen, an attorney who defended the state's voter ID law.

Both judges were approved as part of a package deal between the White House and Georgia's two conservative Republican Senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. The deal was put together before Democrats abolished the filibuster for most nominations, but Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy maintains a Senate tradition, called the blue-slip process, which allows Republican senators to quietly block Obama's judicial picks without drawing public attention.

“We look to our judicial branch to protect and uphold our values and freedoms. Michael Boggs’ anti-choice record shows that he will push his personal agenda instead of listening to the cases in front of him without bias," Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL, said in a statement. “We expect our leaders to nominate judges whom we are confident will be fair and unbiased. Michael Boggs does not pass that test.”

Boggs has drawn particular opposition because as a state representative he supported keeping a Confederate symbol on Georgia's state flag,  supported a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and backed a law that would require parental notification for minors seeking an abortion without exceptions for rape and incest.

Boggs also supported a state program that allowed Georgia residents to purchase “choose life” license plates, the proceeds from which go to support “Pregnancy Resource Centers” in Georgia. The Pregnancy Resource Centers are meant to counsel women on alternatives to terminating a pregnancy, NARAL and other abortion rights organizations see such facilities as attempting to mislead pregnant women by inflating the health risks associated with abortion. 

According to a 2004 article in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, when voting in support of a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Boggs railed against “activist judges” and said that “whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, we have seldom had an opportunity to stand up for things that are common-sensical, things that stand up for Christian values.” Boggs also said the amendment outlawing marriage between same-sex couples was “premised on good Christian values,” according to a 2004 Associated Press report.  

Those sentiments might not have been unusual for a moderate or conservative Southern Democrat in 2004. But that's not the kind of record liberal groups want to see from someone receiving a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

The White House has not backed down from the nominations, arguing that the deal was part of a long, painstaking process of negotiations that they don't want to toss out the window. According to The Hill, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett told the Congressional Black Caucus at a meeting in early February that the administration wouldn't be withdrawing the nominations. The Obama administration is also frustrated with what they see as inadequate recognition of the fact that the administration has nominated the most diverse slate of candidates for the federal bench in history — including one who would be the first openly gay black nominee —and that the Georgia delegation failed to weigh in on the process before the deal over the Georgia nominees was cut.

For their part, local activists say they were left out early in the selection process. “What folks in this community are accustomed to is having senators come to the community and get input as to judicial vacancies, that’s what people in this community were expecting this time,” said Charles Johnson, an attorney with Advocacy for Action, a Georgia-based group opposing Obama's Georgia nominees. “We were told a deal had been brokered that had been pushed by Chambliss and Isakson that involved people that would not have come up from the traditional process.”

Democrats in the Senate have yet to come out publicly against either of the Georgia nominees who have drawn opposition from Democrats in the House. Massachussetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren came closest, warning that Obama has appointed too many "corporate judges" to the bench. With NARAL joning the fray, other liberal groups may follow suit, and Democrats in the Senate may no longer be able to stay silent on the matter. 

“We have a lot of fantastic pro-choice allies in the Senate,” said Samantha Gordon, a spokesperson for NARAL. “They're well aware of our opposition to this candidate.”