Lewis denounces White House judicial nominee Boggs

Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta publicly denounced Judge Michael Boggs on Monday in what could be a death blow to Boggs' beleaguered nomination to the federal bench.

In addition, photographs obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution could contradict Boggs’ Senate testimony that he was not aware of any political activities of a group he supported, Georgia Conservatives in Action.

Boggs, who now sits on the Georgia Court of Appeals, has drawn criticism from civil rights, gay rights and abortion rights leaders for his conservative voting record in the state House, where he served for four years as a Democrat from Waycross.

Boggs’ “record is in direct opposition to everything I have stood for during my career,” Lewis said in a prepared statement. “… 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.”

Lewis had been publicly quiet in recent months as Boggs moved through the confirmation process along with six others from Georgia nominated by President Barack Obama for federal judgeships. But several key Senate Democrats — including Majority Leader Harry Reid — sought Lewis’ counsel and publicly named him as key to their decisions, as Boggs will soon face a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told CNN that she had spoken with Lewis about her committee vote. “I have great respect for John Lewis, who felt that this was a good ticket,” Feinstein said.

U.S. Rep. David Scott, an Atlanta Democrat who has been outspoken in his opposition to Boggs, wrote on Twitter of Feinstein’s comments: “if this is true, then Rep Lewis is a turncoat who has betrayed African Americans, women and gays.”

Lewis responded hours later with the statement, repeating his commitment to “equal rights and social justice” and saying his private conversations have been misconstrued.

“I have tried to refrain from making public statements out of respect for my colleagues and the Senate process,” Lewis said. “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.”

He added, “ 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.”

Scott said he was pleased to see Lewis clarify his thoughts.

“Nobody can use John Lewis no more as cover,” Scott said.

When Boggs testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was asked about a donation to Georgia Conservatives in Action — and whether it would violate prohibitions of judges endorsing candidates. Boggs said he had “no knowledge of (the group’s) sponsorship or endorsement of any candidates for elected office.”

But photographs obtained by the AJC show Boggs attended a 2010 Georgia Conservatives in Action event with several Republican candidates for high office, including soon-to-be governor Nathan Deal. Another photograph shows him at a 2012 fundraiser for Tyler Harper, who was in the process of becoming a state senator from Ocilla.

Doug Chalmers, a lawyer who helped set up the organization said in an email that “Judge Boggs clearly did not violate the judicial canons when his campaign committee made a contribution to Georgia Conservatives in Action (‘GCIA’) in 2012, because GCIA is not a ‘political organization’ under those canons.”

Boggs was part of a package of nominees negotiated by the White House and Georgia's Republican U.S. senators, who have power by tradition to block home-state nominees from committee consideration. But Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson returned "blue slips" on the nominees, relinquishing their leverage.

Boggs, DeKalb County Judge Eleanor Ross and Atlanta lawyers Mark Cohen and Leigh Martin May are nominated to the U.S. District Court in Atlanta. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Julie Carnes and Atlanta lawyer Jill Pryor are nominated to the federal appeals court in Atlanta. Federal prosecutor Leslie Abrams is nominated to the U.S. District Court in Macon.

All will face separate committee votes on a yet-to-be-announced date.