The troubled nomination of Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs to the federal bench is officially dead.
The White House told Georgia’s U.S. senators that President Barack Obama will not renominate Boggs for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. District Court in Atlanta. This comes after Senate Democrats blocked Boggs because of socially conservative stances he took as a Democratic state legislator from Waycross in the early 2000s.
Republican U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia negotiated Boggs’ nomination as part of a package of nominees for long-vacant posts on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court, using deference given to home-state senators by the Judiciary Committee to essentially veto prior Obama picks.
Six other Georgia nominees cleared the Senate in 2014, but Democrats and liberal outside groups — in an exceedingly rare instance of a president’s own party opposing his nominee — formed a roadblock against Boggs.
“We regret the president’s decision, as we have supported Judge Boggs throughout this process and remain steadfast in our support,” Isakson and Chambliss said in a joint press release late Tuesday.
“Throughout the process, Judge Boggs has exhibited enormous restraint and the temperament expected of a jurist. These traits will serve him well for the opportunities we are confident the future holds for Judge Boggs,” the senators said. “We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the people of Georgia.”
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told the senators before Thanksgiving that Obama would not renominate Boggs, but the White House did not officially verify the news for the senators until the final days of December.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the reasoning behind scrapping Boggs’ nomination or the prospects for filling the seat. For months, the White House defended Boggs and his record on the Superior Court and Georgia Court of Appeals.
His political record raised red flags for Democrats, starting with Boggs’ 2001 vote to keep what was the Georgia state flag, featuring the Confederate battle emblem. More than a year ago, Georgia Democrats and Atlanta civil rights leaders started the push against Boggs based on the flag vote.
Abortion rights and gay rights groups joined the fray, citing Boggs’ support for a bill that would have required a parent or guardian to appear with a girl younger than 18 seeking an abortion and show photo ID, plus his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Boggs faced a grilling in the Judiciary Committee and submitted lengthy follow-up statements to the panel, but he was never given an up-or-down vote. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the influential Atlanta Democrat and civil rights figure, came down firmly against Boggs in May — a move seen as a death knell for his nomination.
“We’re pleased that the deep concerns of tens of thousands of people and over forty organizations were heard and that there will be one less federal judge who puts his personal ideology ahead of the constitutional rights of all Americans,” Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a prepared statement. “2015 will be a better year because Michael Boggs will not hold the fate of millions of Americans in his hands.”
Boggs did not return a request for comment. Georgia Superior Court Judge Dwayne Gillis, the chief judge for the Waycross circuit, said it was “tough” to watch his longtime friend get dragged through the mud.
“I do not recall hearing any complaints about his record as a trial judge or appellate court judge,” Gillis said. “And having served with him, I know what kind of man he is, what kind of jurist he is. … He’s a great guy and sort of a tragic loss” for the federal bench.
Boggs would probably have fared better in the Republican-controlled Senate in 2015, but Georgia’s Republicans never issued a Boggs-or-nothing ultimatum, either. Instead of negotiating a package of some liberal and some conservative judges, Obama can work to fill this single vacancy — and try to anoint someone his base will not reject.
“I’m glad that the president has closed the door on this nomination so we can start the new year looking ahead, not back,” U.S. Rep. David Scott, an Atlanta Democrat who led the public charge against Boggs, said in a statement. “There are hundreds of qualified attorneys in Georgia who could serve as a federal judge and I ask that an open and fair process be used to select the next nominees.”
In addition to one U.S. District Court judge, Obama likely will have to submit a new U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia for Senate confirmation, as Sally Quillian Yates is up for the No. 2 post at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law school professor who closely follows the judicial nomination process, said the White House could work with Isakson and David Perdue, the Republican who won election to fill Chambliss’ seat, to find a less “divisive” choice.
“Both sides are going to have to compromise like they did with the (package) deal if they want to fill the vacancy,” Tobias said. “To me it’s less urgent now, so at least you have all these other seats filled so the judicial resource issue is not as pressing as it once was.”
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