Democratic senators opposed to one of President Obama’s nominees to serve on a federal court in Georgia sharply questioned the pick Tuesday about his previous statements, votes and court decisions related to abortion rights, gay rights and civil rights.
Michael Boggs is a Georgia state judge tapped by Obama to serve on a U.S. district court in Georgia. The White House has stood by Boggs despite strong opposition from a handful of Democratic senators, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, civil rights leaders, NARAL Pro-Choice America and gay rights groups.
Boggs has served as a state appeals court judge since 2012 and previously served as a state superior court judge. As a state senator from 2000 to 2004, Boggs, a conservative Democrat, supported keeping the Confederate emblem on the Georgia state flag; supported establishing a “Choice Life” license plate that helped fund antiabortion groups; opposed same-sex marriage; and supported a law that would require parents to accompany their daughters to abortion clinics if the daughter is younger than 18.
Boggs and six other picks to serve on federal courts in Georgia testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday morning. They were introduced by Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who worked with the White House to pick the nominees. Isakson credited Obama and his White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, for overseeing a fair selection and nomination process.
Under questioning by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Boggs was asked several detailed questions about his position on abortion rights. Boggs said he’d had only one case regarding abortion rights while serving as a state judge and added that it “would be inappropriate” for his personal opinions to ever be a factor in his court rulings.
“I think that the best evidence I will be is the record of the type of judge I have been,” Boggs said.
Several Democratic senators also pressed Boggs on his support as a Georgia lawmaker for a proposal that would have disclosed the number of abortions performed by doctors. Critics said such a list would have endangered the lives of abortion providers.
“In light of what I subsequently learned, I don’t think it would be appropriate to” support the proposal, Boggs said.
When Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) noted later that Boggs had faced criticism from gay rights groups for his support of “traditional marriage,” Boggs suggested that “My position may or may not have changed on that over the last decade” as it has for many Americans. Boggs did not elaborate nor was he asked to clarify that comment by Grassley or other senators.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) also pressed Boggs to explain his support for a new state flag that would preserve elements of the Confederate flag. Boggs said that while he was personally “offended” by the flag, he knew that the “overwhelming majority” of his constituents wanted to hold a referendum on whether to change the flag’s design.
Ultimately, Boggs said, “I’m glad the flag was changed.”
NARAL Pro-Choice America said after the hearing that Boggs “stands against the majority of Americans who want the freedom to make their own choices about when they start a family. It was clear during the hearing that Boggs’ record is deeply concerning and his testimony did nothing to allay those concerns.”
Civil rights leaders, including Joseph Lowery, the Methodist minister that Obama invited to give the benediction at his first inauguration, and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) have reiterated their opposition to some of the nominees for Georgia’s federal courts, saying that they don’t properly represent the state’s diversity.
But Obama’s judicial picks have been more diverse than previous administrations, with 18 percent of Obama’s picks being African American, compared to less than 10 percent for George W. Bush and 16 percent under Bill Clinton, according to White House statistics.
Opposition to Boggs is mounting as another of Obama’s judicial picks, David J. Barron, faces resistance from Democratic and Republican senators because of his involvement in drafting memos on the legality of killing American citizens in drone strikes when he worked in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he hopes to schedule a vote soon to confirm Barron and that he will support him. But Reid said he would withhold judgment on Boggs.
Other Democratic senators said Tuesday that they will withhold judgement on Boggs. But Grassley predicted that Boggs will survive the confirmation process despite Democratic opposition.
“This is something the White House really wants,” Grassley said.
Tuesday’s confirmation hearing came amid a flurry of confirmation votes on several of Obama’s judicial picks in recent weeks amid legislative gridlock. With Democratic and Republican senators unable to proceed on several different measures, Democratic leaders have devoted several days of floor time in recent weeks to confirming several nominees to federal district and appeals courts.