After Republicans and seven Democratic defectors teamed up to sink the president's pick to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division last week, some of the president's allies are redoubling their efforts to claim a scalp of their own: Michael P. Boggs, a nominee for the District Court bench in Georgia.
The scorched-earth campaign led by groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police against Debo P. Adegbile came down to a visceral attack over his participation in the legal defense of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Boggs' opponents are painting him in stark terms as well.
“Let’s put it this way, we have no choice but to follow this pattern; it looks like this is the way to go,” said Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., Boggs' chief opponent. "... We hope to have a winning hand as well."
On Monday, Scott teamed up with NARAL Pro-Choice America and sent an email to its 500,000 members urging them to call their senators and oppose the Boggs nomination. "I’m as surprised and outraged as you are to be fighting an anti-civil rights, anti-choice, anti-marriage equality nominee put forward by Obama’s White House to serve on the federal bench in my home state in Georgia," Scott wrote. "... We can turn this train around, but the Senate needs to know that the American people aren’t willing to put the future of our courts in the hands of someone whose values should have been left behind in the 1950s."
Unlike with Adegbile, who was done in by just seven Democratic votes , in the Boggs case opponents will need to either convince Senate Democratic leaders to put the nomination on ice, convince the vast majority of Democrats to oppose him or convince the president to withdraw the pick. That's because Boggs has the blessing of his home-state senators, Republicans Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.
The Boggs pick was part of a larger deal with the GOP senators to get more important, higher-level circuit court judges confirmed in the state. It highlights what's known as the "blue slip" process, a Senate tradition requiring both senators to approve of a judicial nominee before the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing.
Without Isakson's and Chambliss' blessing, 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.
“The blue slip rule for judicial nominees has been more problematic than the filibuster because it can act as a silent, unaccountable veto,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in an email, echoing comments made last month to The Huffington Post by White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler. “But given this constraint, our choice is clear: do we work with Republican senators to find a compromise or should we leave the seats vacant? We believe it would be grossly irresponsible for the president to leave these seats vacant.”
Scott's opposition to Boggs stems, in large part, from his vote in 2001 to retain the old state flag, which included the confederate insignia, when he and Scott both served in the state legislature.
“That was the most important vote in the modern history of Georgia,” Scott said, adding that many “brave” legislators lost their seats in order to push the state forward.
NARAL also attacked Boggs for supporting legislation that would have created a “Choose Life” license plate funding anti-abortion groups and a bill requiring parents to accompany their daughters to abortion clinics if the daughter is under the age of 18.
Scott, who also opposes another district judge nominee, Mark H. Cohen, said Obama runs the risk of alienating significant parts of the coalition that voted for him to be president, namely African-Americans and women. “The irony of all this, which makes it so hurtful and painful to us, is that this is an African-American president,” he said.
The White House did not seek input from Democrats in the Georgia delegation, Scott complained.
The Judiciary Committee is still getting paperwork for Boggs and has yet to set a date for a hearing, a committee aide said.
Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., stressed to The New York Times recently that the deal is between the White House and the senators and that he is not “committed one way or the other.”
Leahy also said getting rid of the blue slip process would not ease or speed judicial nominations. “[I]t would not change a thing,” Leahy said. “Nominees opposed by home-state senators will not get through.”
The White House is sticking by Boggs.
“Judge Michael Boggs was recommended to the President by Senators Isakson and Chambliss, as part of a compromise to fill six judicial vacancies in Georgia,” Schultz continued. “And based on Boggs’ ten-year track record as a state trial and appellate court judge, the President believes he is qualified for the federal bench.
“Of all the recent criticisms offered against Michael Boggs, not one is based on his record as a judge for the past 10 years,” Schultz said. “What has distinguished him as a state court judge at the trial level as well as on the court of appeals is that he has taken a keen interest and leading role in criminal justice reform.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said it's up to Obama whether the nominations of Boggs and Cohen clear the committee and the floor, or the outside groups will be successful.
"It depends on how much the president puts in to this," Grassley said, noting that most Republicans will vote for them so only a few Democrats would be needed to confirm their nominations.
Isakson also continues to back the slate.
"I support the president's decision," said. "The president is a Democrat. He's got a great staff that advises him. I'm sure he made the right decision up and down the slate."
University of Richmond Law Professor Carl Tobias said Republicans may privately be happy to leave the Georgia posts vacant.
“They can smell the blood in the water,” Tobias said. “They really think they're going to win the Senate, and if they do then to hell with the Democrats, right? They can make even better deals."
Niels Lesniewski and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.