The Senate Democratic leadership is united in opposition to appointing controversial anti-choice judge Michael Boggs to a federal district court in Georgia. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee such as Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have said they will vote against the candidate, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have had harsh public words for Boggs, who has been criticized for his anti-choice and pro-Confederate flag votes as a state legislator.
But one Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), whose vote could be crucial to determining whether Boggs’s nomination goes forward to the full Senate, hasn’t yet taken a public position on Boggs.
“I’m a believer in the importance of the local senators’ views about their home states about district judges being respected, so it would take a pretty exceptional reason for me to violate that rule,” Whitehouse said in late May.
Yet when he was running for Senate in 2005, Whitehouse called on Sen. Lincoln Chafee (RI) to filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, specifically for the “extraordinary circumstances” of Alito’s anti-choice views and activism. Whitehouse’s campaign blog said that Alito was anti-choice and would undermine Roe v. Wade, and that by refusing to filibuster, Chafee was violating a promise never to support a Supreme Court nominee who would put a woman’s right to choose at risk.
Boggs has a long list of anti-choice votes, including one for an amendment that would have published online the names of abortion-providing doctors. His colleagues and other opinion-makers at the time argued that this would provoke anti-choice violence. Boggs raised eyebrows during his confirmation hearing when he claimed to have been unaware of that issue at the time, seeming to claim that he not only didn’t know people might bomb abortion clinics because of that amendment, but that he didn’t know abortion clinics were being bombed at all.
Boggs has walked back those remarks since then, claiming in written remarks to the committee, “I did not intend to convey categorically that I was generally unaware of claims of violence against physicians that perform abortions,” but rather that he did not connect the amendment to those violent incidents and did not remember hearing those concerns raised relative to the amendment.
But Boggs has been criticized not just for his anti-choice votes. He has also come under fire for sponsoring a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and for voting to preserve a Confederate symbol on the Georgia state flag.
A staff member in Whitehouse’s office told RH Reality Check he was unaware of the senator having taken any specific position on Boggs, and as of publication time, Whitehouse’s office has not yet returned a request for comment on why he has not taken a position on Boggs.