Why the Campaign Against Conservative Judicial Nominees Like Michael Boggs Matters

Late last year, as the Obama administration wrestled with Republicans over their continued obstruction of the president’s judicial nominations, reports surfaced of a deal brokered between the administration and Republican senators from Georgia on at least some federal court nominees. According to reports, the Obama administration agreed to appoint three nominees, pre-approved by Georgia Republican senators, to the federal district court of Georgia. In exchange, Republicans agreed to end their filibuster of the nomination of Jill Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The judicial candidates pre-selected by Republicans and later nominated by President Obama include Michael Boggs, currently a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, who has a long history of opposition to civil rights. Prior to his time on the Georgia Court of Appeals, Boggs was an attorney and then legislator who championed anti-choice causes. While serving in the state legislature, Boggs co-sponsored legislation to make even more severe the state’s existing parental involvement law. Under Boggs’ proposal, before a minor could have an abortion, a parent or guardian would have to accompany the patient in person and display a photo identification to prove their status as guardian/parent before the procedure could take place. Similar in effect to voter identification laws, the photo ID requirement would have disproportionately affected low-income individuals, minority communities, and the elderly, who are less likely to have state-issued photo identification cards. Boggs’ restriction did not include any exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Boggs also worked as a legislator to channel state funds into anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers by sponsoring a bill promoting “Choose Life” license plates.

Boggs’ hostility to fundamental civil rights is not confined to issues of reproductive choice. While a legislator, Boggs sided with segregationists and voted against a proposed change to the Georgia state flag to remove a Confederate emblem. Not surprisingly, Boggs also voted against recognizing marriage equality in the state.

It’s not surprising that Republican senators from Georgia would offer up Boggs’ nomination to the federal bench. What is surprising is that the administration would go along with it.

Shortly after the deal clearing the way for Boggs’ nomination was reported, Democratic lawmakers from the state, led by long-time civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis, urged the administration to withdraw the nominees over concerns about their ideology and lack of diversity. On Wednesday, NARAL Pro-Choice America joined with Lewis and a growing list of organizations and lawmakers in opposing Boggs’ nomination.

“Michael Boggs actually believes that there is one definition of what it means to live your life as an American,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. “The thing is, that’s anti-American.”

Boggs’ nomination, and the deal that got him there, represents a step backwards for the administration’s goal of opening up the federal courts, and threatens to slide an already conservative federal bench further to the right. It’s no wonder civil rights advocates oppose his nomination and like the deal that got him nominated even less. “Americans don’t like backroom deals on the courts any more than they like backroom deals on laws that affect the most vulnerable,” Hogue told RH Reality Check. “We want the administration to aggressively nominate qualified candidates. … We don’t believe Boggs is such a candidate.”

Hogue told RH Reality Check that what’s ultimately at stake is more than just the Boggs nomination, and she said to expect to see more advocacy from NARAL on the courts. A focus on the state and federal judiciary must be a “critical thrust” for the reproductive rights movement, and NARAL specifically, she said.

“In the next decade, these courts are going to issue rulings on a host of issues that are important to us, including state-level attacks on reproductive choice,” Hogue said. “We just can’t risk having judges on the bench like this when there are so many issues that will define who we are as a nation.”

NARAL’s campaign, and the mounting pressure from civil rights advocates against Boggs’ nomination generally, represents an increased focus by progressives on the future of federal and state courts. This is an important thing to focus on: Georgia is part of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal circuit that includes Alabama and Florida. Federal and state courts in this jurisdiction alone will consider the constitutionality of state-level reproductive rights challenges, attacks on immigrant rights, voting rights, and “stand your ground” laws, while electoral data suggests historically red-state Georgia is turning blue.

While an evolving liberal electorate may not seem to have an immediate impact on the state of the federal courts, peeking just to the east, to the neighboring Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, encompassing North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, illustrates why these Georgia nominations matter. After decades of control by conservative senators, the Fourth Circuit was once considered the most “aggressively conservative federal appeals court in the nation.” But since 2009, following the confirmation of six judges to the Fourth Circuit under the Obama administration, even the Fourth Circuit is veering toward center, most recently striking as unconstitutional North Carolina’s anti-choice “Choose Life” license plates law that was almost identical to the one Boggs promoted as a lawmaker.

That may be the most maddening part of the Boggs nomination and the deal the administration struck with Republicans to nominate him. After decades of manipulation by conservatives, there is finally an opportunity to offer some balance, but the Obama administration is apparently passing on the chance.

Conservatives have succeeded in stymieing civil rights advances by using electoral gains to fill the federal courts with conservative justices and by using party politics to obstruct any nominee but the most centrist. While the Obama administration deserves praise for diversifying the federal bench, going along with conservatives on nominees who embrace anti-equality positions in jurisdictions where these issues may matter most is both bad politics and bad policy. And it comes at a time when the federal courts and this country can’t afford any more of either.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact press@rhrealitycheck.org.

Follow Jessica Mason Pieklo on twitter: @hegemommy

  • BQRealityBites

    With a site name like “Reality Check” I had hoped for objective reporting…oh well..I’ll keep looking. I found out nothing important about this guy other than the author doesn’t like him because he doesn’t have the same views she does…moving on.

  • terafied

    Welcome to the horse-trading show of this administration.

  • http://www.ccrider27.com/ ccrider27

    So if I’m reading this right, what we have is a Dem Senator as chairman of a Dem controlled Senate Judiciary Committee who clings to the ‘old tradition’ of allowing home-state senators to black-ball nominees. And this is happening even after the Dems won the compromise on the filibuster to allow an up or down vote on judiciary nominees.

    So to Patrick Leahy, old tradition is more important than women’s reproductive rights.

    And yet we’re supposed to believe that there is some sort of difference in the two major parties? Don’t think so – at least not in terms of deeds. Their words are prettier than the Rethugs, but their deeds are essentially the same.

    Who was it who said “Republicans are obvious evil, but the Democrats are the effective evil.” ??

    Vote Green.

    • John OBrien

      Remember this cuts both ways. Someday we may want Democratic senators to be able to stop right-wing appointees of a Republican president.

      We need a new method of selecting Federal judges (admittedly this would require a constitutional amendment), but handing out lifetime appointments on the whim of the President and a few senators is a bit much. There should at least be a term limit

      • http://www.ccrider27.com/ ccrider27

        Agreed as to need for a new method of selecting judges and term limits.

        However this is about Dems and Rethugs acting exactly the same. The “old tradition” that the Dems in this case hang on to, while they stomp all over womens’ right to adequate healthcare, could easily be changed without a constitutional amendment.

        But the part about “we may want Democratic senators to be able to stop right-wing appointees of a Republican president.” Really? What we have in this very example is Dems appointing and electing right-wing judges. That’s what this discussion is about.

        When we have Dem senators doing this and a Dem president that adheres to a policy of unlimited snooping on everybody (Americans included), murdering innocent people with his drones by the score (remember he appointed the Assassination Czar to head the CIA almost the moment he became a lame duck – and who can ever forget the line about ‘due process but not judicial process’ jeesh – appointed ex-torture advocate to head the FBI), adopting the Drill Baby Drill mantra of McCain/Palin, refusing to investigate war crimes/torture by the previous administration, continuing with the tax cuts for the wealthy while appointing the Catfood Commission in an attempt to eviserate the safety net for the old, sick and poor; refuses to indict any of the Wall Street criminals after they ruined our economy, and then appoints them to the very highest positions in his cabinet; harasses, jails and over-prosecutes whistle blowers – 8 months naked in solitary for Manning – not to mention Swartz, Kiriakou, Hammond, 105 years requested for Barrett Brown; speaking great words about climate change and then doing every thing in his power to stop progress in Doha, pushes for Keystone XL after appointing a Keystone contractor to head his Dept. of Energy and attempting to get one of the largest Keystone shareholders Sec. of State; pushes for TPP and Fast Track; coordinated a pre-emptive attack on Occupy in cooperation with Wall Street…

        When the Dems are doing all that, you can tell a difference between their actions and those of the Rethugs? Really?

        Both parties are moving further and further to the right every day and every election cycle. There is no difference whatsoever – unless of course you just listen to their words while completely ignoring their deeds.

  • Chillycat2

    First of all Dems have always been the anti civil rights party and STILL are to this day. And apparently the ONLY issue they care about is killing babies. NOT control over your own body because they love them some obamacare… Just killing babies. How proud you must all be under that tiny napkin sized tent of a party….

    • markfey

      Delusion runs deep in this one, Obi-Wan.

  • cameron

    Why don’t you go after the GOP who did this?