A House member coming out against a judicial nomination wouldn't normally be a fatal blow, but Rep. John Lewis isn't just any House member and Michael P. Boggs isn't just any nominee.
The Georgia Democrat and civil rights leader's forceful statement Monday could torpedo Boggs, the key to a larger deal cut by the White House with Georgia's two Republican senators for a slate of judges. Top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois had indicated they were looking to Lewis for guidance.
Lewis' opposition also quashed what had the makings of a nasty intraparty fight in the delegation.
A day earlier, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had indicated on CNN that Lewis privately backed the deal that resulted in Boggs' nomination. Feinstein's comments set off a torrent of tweets from Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., who warned Lewis would be a "turncoat" if Feinstein's comments were true.
But Lewis' statement left no question where he stood.
“Based on the evidence revealed during this hearing, I do not support the confirmation of Michael Boggs to the federal bench,” he said.
“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 continued. “The testimony suggests Boggs may allow his personal political leanings to influence his impartiality on the bench. I do not have a vote in the Senate, but if I did I would vote against the confirmation of Michael Boggs.”
Boggs, who has been a state judge for the past 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.
He has since disavowed his votes, but a raft of interest groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Human Rights Campaign and Georgia Equality have urged senators to keep him off the federal bench.
In December, Lewis and other members of Georgia’s black congressional delegation, as well as civil rights and legal organizations, appeared at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the onetime congregation of Martin Luther King Jr., to denounce the deal reached between the White House and Georgia Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss to fill seven judicial vacancies in the state.
“I have tried to refrain from making public statements out of respect for my colleagues and the Senate process,” Lewis said Monday. “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. 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.”
The last two sentences appear to be directed at comments made by Feinstein that Lewis had indicated the deal was "a good ticket."
A spokesman Monday said Feinstein had no comment.
Lewis’ blessing of the Boggs nomination would have been a reversal of his initial position and a lifeline to a nomination that has been in deep trouble for weeks.
Lewis is a civil rights hero who led the famous 1965 march in Selma, Ala., that left him with a fractured skull.
“I have fought long and hard and even put my life on the line for the cause of equal rights and social justice,” Lewis said in his statement. “My commitment to these ideals has never changed, and my record is solid and unwavering.”
The case has highlighted what’s known as the “blue slip” process, a Senate tradition requiring both home-state senators to approve of a judicial nominee before the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing.
Without the blessing of Isakson and Chambliss, the judicial nominees in Georgia would simply go vacant — despite last year’s use of the “nuclear option” eliminating filibusters of most nominations.
So the White House cut a deal.