A controversial Georgia judicial nominee disavowed his state legislature votes on the Confederate flag and naming abortion doctors at a Senate Judiciary hearing Tuesday, but his confirmation remains in doubt as he faces fire from an array of liberal groups.
“I think he answered the questions forthrightly,” said Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin a veteran member of the committee.
Durbin spoke after leaving a committee hearing on seven Georgia judicial nominees, including Michael P. Boggs, who was nominated in December by President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The senior Illinois Democrat said he wants to consider Boggs' responses to questions before deciding how to vote to send his confirmation to the Senate floor.
Boggs, who has been a state judge for the last 10 years, has come under fire for votes as a Georgia legislator between 2001 and 2004, including a vote keep the Confederate insignia on the Georgia state flag, another to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and to restrict access to abortion.
His votes have drawn the ire NARAL Pro-Choice America, as well as Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights leader, and Rep. David Scott, D-Ga. Scott asked to testify at the hearing, but was denied because the committee has a policy against outside witnesses.
Other Democrats on the panel were also still mulling whether to back Boggs.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “I want to review again some of his past actions in the state legislature.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also said she too is not sure she would support the nomination due to concerns over his past positions as a legislator.
“I don’t know,” Feinstein said during the hearing. “I hope to have a chance to talk with you more after this. But what I want you to know is, for my vote, I have to have certainty and I don’t know quite how to get it in view of this record.”
The Boggs pick was part of a larger deal between the White House and the two Georgia senators in order to get more important, higher-level circuit court judges confirmed in the state.
But even with the Obama’s imprimatur, confirmation is not guaranteed. Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., who did not attend the hearing, said in a statement that the burden remains with each senator on his or her due diligence and that senators must decide for themselves if the nominees are worthy.
“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,” Leahy said.
“Nor should any Senator be making up their minds about nominees without allowing the process to run its course.”
Boggs said he regretted some of the votes he made as a state lawmaker, including the ones under discussion, and stressed that as a judge he would not rely on his personal views, but rather would abide by precedent on all matters.
He declined to give his personal views on reproductive rights or gay marriage because he said they would be irrelevant in adjudicating any such cases.
He said as a lawmaker he struggled with when to vote his conscience versus when to vote the will of his very conservative, anti-abortion constituents.
When questioned about an amendment he supported that would have publicly listed the names of doctors who perform abortions, Boggs said he regretted the vote due to the fact that they are often the target of violence.
“In light of what I subsequently learned, I don’t think it would be appropriate to be listing the names of doctors,” Boggs said.
With regard to the Georgia state flag, Boggs said he was “offended” by the flag that included the Confederate stars and bars, but voted the will of his constituents.
“However, I am glad the flag was changed,” Boggs said.
Durbin later told CQ Roll Call that the issue is extremely significant.
“For some of us who grew up on a particular time of American history this issue of race is just central to our thinking about the future of this nation and our legislative bodies and he was in a different place, facing different challenges and I want to reflect on how he handled them,” Durbin said.
With regard to same sex marriage, Boggs insisted he would to adhere to precedent.