The White House formally announced nominees to fill Georgia’s federal judicial vacancies Thursday, moving toward an end to the years-long political logjam that has left local district and appeals courts shorthanded.
U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes was nominated to ascend to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. With that, Georgia Republican U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss are expected to release their blockade on previously nominated Atlanta attorney Jill Pryor to fill the other appeals post.
Carnes’ departure leaves four open slots on the Atlanta-based U.S. District Court bench, and the picks to fill those slots are: Atlanta personal injury attorney Leigh Martin May; DeKalb County State Court Judge Eleanor Ross; Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs, and Atlanta lawyer Mark Cohen.
The nominees were the result of lengthy negotiations among Chambliss, Isakson and White House officials. The deal was struck months ago, but the Obama administration had to vet the nominees before formally announcing them.
Georgia Democrats had protested that there were not enough minorities in the slate — only Ross, an African-American, is nonwhite — but they were unable to derail the deal.
“As senators, we take our constitutional duty to advise and consent very seriously,” Isakson and Chambliss said in a joint statement.
“We are pleased to see the process of filling federal judicial nominations in Georgia move forward. The White House has been diligent and cooperative throughout this process, and this is a well-qualified group of nominees. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Senate as we go through the confirmation process.”
By Senate Judiciary Committee custom, home-state senators must approve of judicial nominees before they can be considered. Isakson and Chambliss used this power to negotiate with the White House over filling the slots, and had blocked previous nominees.
While the White House had sought advice from Georgia’s five U.S. House Democrats on filling appointments in Georgia, they were ultimately sidelined in choosing these judges.
“I am surprised and disappointed,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, a DeKalb County Democrat. “It’s not so much the nominees themselves; it is the lack of diversity that we have on our bench in the Northern District and the 11th Circuit … For the administration this was what you call kind of a legacy opportunity, and I think that it’s a missed opportunity.”
Carnes, 62, was appointed to the district court in 1991 by George H.W. Bush. Pryor, 50, is a partner at Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore and a past president of the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers.
Georgia Democrats had raised objections to Boggs, for his vote in the state Senate to keep Georgia’s old state flag, which included a Confederate flag. They also protested Cohen for defending Georgia’s voter-ID law, which many consider discriminatory, even though he did so at the request of Democratic Attorney General Thurbert Baker.
The nominees still must be approved by committee and the full Senate, but all nominees have hit snags in recent weeks after Democrats infuriated Senate Republicans by changing the rules so they could overcome a filibuster against an administration nominee with 51 votes instead of 60.
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