Numerous prominent Democrats have expressed concern or outright opposition this week to nominating Michael Boggs to a federal district court in Georgia, citing his extreme anti-choice and anti-civil rights views along with basic competency issues.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that he cannot support Boggs’ nomination unless he gets a “better explanation” for Boggs’ more controversial positions. The other three Senate Democratic leaders, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (D-WA) joined Reid in expressing negative opinions about Boggs’ nomination. Durbin told the Huffington Post that Boggs’ answers in his confirmation hearing “really were not very good,” Schumer said he had “significant doubts” and is “weighing it,” and Murray’s office said she is “not inclined to support” the nomination.
Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) also told the Huffington Post that they cannot support Boggs’ nomination, while Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) expressed “deep concerns” about his record.
The opposition that could matter most in the coming weeks will be from the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who held a confirmation hearing for Boggs on Tuesday. Several members of that committee, including Durbin, pressed Boggs hard with skeptical questions about his actions as a state lawmaker. His repeated failure to provide necessary documentation also frustrated some members; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said this failure raised for him “questions about competence and integrity.” No committee members have come out publicly with an emphatic “no,” but the tenor of their questions and public statements bode poorly for the nominee.
Progressive groups oppose Boggs for his long list of reactionary votes on reproductive health and civil rights issues. He voted to keep Confederate insignia on the Georgia state flag and to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and he co-sponsored or voted for numerous extreme anti-choice bills. Those bills included initiatives to fund anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers, make it harder for young women to access abortion, lay the groundwork for fetal “personhood” rights, create a committee to study “post-abortion syndrome,” and even force doctors to publish online the number of abortions they have performed, making them potential targets for violent protest activity.
Boggs’ clear opposition to women’s reproductive freedom has led groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America to say that he has no business being on the federal bench, and Sens. Blumenthal and Al Franken (D-MN) were incredulous that he could have supported the amendment publicizing abortion doctor information.
“There is clearly a very powerful history of violence linked to doctors providing these services,” said Blumenthal. “I find frankly incredible the idea that you would not understand that this amendment would put doctors at risk.”
Franken was unmoved by Boggs’ claims that he hadn’t had the opportunity to study the amendment, given the obvious public safety problem of doctors being murdered: “Thirty-seven years old. A state legislator. Were not aware of anything. OK.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told Boggs flat-out during the hearing that she didn’t know if she believed him when he insisted he would comply with legal precedent regardless of his past votes, and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) raised ethical concerns about Boggs having made political contributions while he was a judicial candidate.
The Obama administration picked the controversial judge as part of an all-or-nothing package deal of seven nominees to keep Georgia Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson from blocking nominations to courts that have long been badly understaffed. Chambliss and Isakson could use a silent veto power over anyone the administration might choose in that state: By tradition but not by rule, senators can stop the nomination of judges in their home state from going forward if they refuse to give the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee a “blue slip” indicating their approval. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has the option not to follow the blue slip practice, but he has refused to do so, possibly fearing retaliation from Republicans if they regain the majority.
The administration’s deal with the senators has been fulfilled now that the nominations have gone forward, and White House press secretary Jay Carney said Democrats should vote their conscience. But the administration still refuses to withdraw its support from Boggs as a nominee.