Judge Michael Boggs of the Georgia Court of Appeals is an anti-choice former state legislator who co-sponsored bills that would have made it harder for young women to get abortions, and that would have funded anti-choice groups, including the so-called crisis pregnancy centers known for dispensing misleading or outright false information to pregnant women, through the sale of “Choose Life” license plates. In addition, Boggs voted to amend the Georgia constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and to preserve the symbol of the Confederate flag in the state flag of Georgia. And he’s President Barack Obama’s nominee to the federal district court in Georgia.
The nomination was made as a concession to Georgia’s two U.S. senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, who are both Republicans.
On Thursday, 27 progressive organizations, including RH Reality Check, sent a letter to members of the United States Senate, urging them to reject the Boggs nomination. The letter campaign was spearheaded by NARAL Pro-Choice America, and signatories include civil rights groups such as Color of Change and LGBTQ rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund. Also signing on are a range of pro-choice organizations, including Advocates for Youth and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as general-interest progressive groups such as CREDO Mobile/CREDO Action and Democracy for America.
The letter reads, in part:
During his time as a legislator in the Georgia General Assembly, Boggs demonstrated a troubling lack of concern for individuals whose experience and personal history differ from his own, creating a record that lacks a demonstrated commitment to fairness and equal justice with respect to issues of reproductive freedom, civil rights, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality.
At least one Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), is voicing reservations about the Boggs nomination. In reply to a request from RH Reality Check for his response to the letter sent by the NARAL-led coalition, Blumenthal provided a brief written statement.
“This letter raises legitimate and important questions about Judge Boggs’s record,” Blumenthal wrote. “I look forward to hearing him explain his positions fully before the Judiciary Committee when that time comes.”
“Blue-Slipping” and a Backroom Deal
The Boggs nomination, made as part of a deal to unsnarl the nomination of attorney Jill Pryor to the same court, a nomination blocked by Chambliss and Isakson. The pair have been able to stall the Pryor nomination with a tradition called “blue-slipping,” which allows an individual senator to effectively veto a federal judicial nominations to federal courts in their home states. (RH Reality Check’s Jessica Mason Pieklo has the backstory on blue-slipping here.)
The deal made by the Obama administration to move forward with the Pryor nomination involved allowing Chambliss and Isakson to sign off on four judicial nominations to the federal bench in order to grant the administration a mere two picks.
“These positions on the federal bench are too important for a backroom political deal,” said NARAL President Ilyse Hogue in an interview with RH Reality Check. “Each nominee needs to stand or fall on their demonstrated ability to hold the rule of law above their own personal beliefs.”
As Pieklo reports, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) could choose not to abide by the blue-slipping tradition—as his Republican predecessor, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) refused—since it is not a constitutionally-mandated rule. But Leahy has so far declined to shun the tradition, even if it means putting Boggs on the federal district court in Georgia, which reviews the decisions of courts in three Southern states.
“Michael Boggs has a track record of not only doing the wrong thing, but leading the wrong thing on reproductive freedom, on civil rights, on LGBT rights,” Hogue said. “And it is really connecting those dots that gives us grave concern that he would be able to separate his own personal beliefs from the cases he would be hearing from the bench.”
When asked if it was fair to give Boggs’ legislative record greater weight than his judicial record as a measure of how he would act on the federal appeals court, Hogue noted that NARAL had found no cases on matters of reproductive freedom that had come before him in his current post on the state court.
“So, there is nothing in his history as a judge that would negate his actions as a state [representative],” Hogue said. “One point that I think is really important for your readers to understand, and for the senators to understand, is that … cases that come before state judges rarely involve constitutional issues in the same way that we expect of a federal court, and therefore we do actually hold federal judges up to a higher standard because they’re talking about core fundamental rights and equality.”
Civil Rights and Reproductive Freedom: “Our Shared Connection”
Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, suggested that the Boggs nomination was an affront to the very coalition of voters who elected Obama to the presidency based, he said in an interview with RH Reality Check, on “a vision that we would be able to see America truly represented, not just through our legislative and executive branches, but through our judicial branch … We’ve got to make our voices heard for reproductive freedom, for the rights of LGBT folks, and for civil rights.”
Among the many aspects of Boggs’ record Robinson found troubling, he said, was the nominee’s support for the inclusion of the Confederate standard in the Georgia state flag. “Some see the Confederate flag as just a symbol,” Robinson said, “but for those of us whose ancestors suffered under a regime that considered them less than human and treated them as such, it is not just a symbol, but it’s a sign of a really dangerous and problematic past.”
Indeed, among the first to oppose the Boggs nomination was Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his leadership in the Civil Rights movement, during which he endured numerous beatings at the hands of law enforcement during protests, including one that fractured his skull during the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.
In December, together with civil rights veterans Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rev. C.T. Vivian, Lewis called on Obama to withdraw the Boggs nomination, as well that of Mark Cohen, another of Chambliss’ and Isakson’s picks for the federal bench.
If there was any upside to the controversy surrounding the Boggs nomination, Robinson told RH Reality Check, it was that it made clear among the coalition partners, representing the reproductive freedom, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights movements, “our shared connection together.”
“Sometimes we have to push back against something and then find those aspirational moments for us to drive something bigger together,” Robinson said.
During Thursday’s daily press briefing, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to a question from the Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery about the progressive coalition’s letter by saying he was unfamiliar with the coalition’s efforts to see the Boggs nomination withdrawn.