Nel's New Day

July 31, 2014

Appoint Judges Who Support Democracy

Michael Boggs is one of the many presidential nominees languishing in the wings of the Senate political machine, and, for once, that’s a good thing. Although many of President Obama’s nominations are middle of the ground, Boggs is a far-right Georgia state judge who got this nomination through a political deal.

Last year, Georgia’s GOP senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, presented the president with an “all or nothing package” of judge nomination approvals. In return for the president’s appointing Judge Julie Carnes to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and giving Boggs (and two other Republican-picked attorneys) a place on the Northern District Court of Georgia, Sens. Chambliss and Isakson would end a more than two-year hold on Jill Pryor’s confirmation to the 11th Circuit Court. Of these seven judicial nominees, four were GOP preferences, and only two of the seven are black despite the large black population of the state.

Six of the nominees have moved forward. Julie Carnes, originally a George H.W. Bush appointee, was unanimously confirmed in mid-July, and Jill Pryor’s vote is scheduled for tomorrow, the last day before the Senate leaves on a month-long recess. Boggs nomination, however, is still in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Four Democrats on that committee plan to vote against Boggs, and other Democrats have raised serious concerns about supporting him for the lifetime post on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Boggs’s record as a state legislator show that the skeptics have good reason. His votes include these positions:

  • Keep the Confederate insignia added in 1956 specifically to indicate lawmakers’ objections to federal desegregation policies
  • Ban same-sex marriage as “premised on good Christian values.”
  • Require doctors to post personal information online with the number of abortions they have performed
  • Strengthen parental consent laws for abortion
  • Create state-sponsored “Choose Life” license plates
  • Tighten other restrictions on access to abortions

When Boggs was asked about his vote mandating doctors to post this information online, he told the committee that he’d never heard of health clinics being attacked or doctors being killed by radical anti-abortion protesters. Committee member Al Franken (R-MN) pressed him on his answer, but Boggs held firm in his ignorance. Franken finally answered, “Thirty-seven years old. A state legislator. Were not aware of anything. Okay.” Later Boggs changed his position. He said he was aware of the health providers’ murdered by protesters but he didn’t link these situations with his vote.

In June, more than two dozen human rights organizations sent a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee urging them to oppose Boggs’ confirmation because he is a “serious threat” to civil rights.

“Judge Boggs’ views make him a serious threat to the future of our domestic civil rights–particularly those relating to employment discrimination, voting rights, access to public accommodations, school desegregation, women’s health, and marriage equality,” reads the letter, sent by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national civil rights organizations.

Boggs would “undermine the future of civil and human rights jurisprudence” in Georgia, the letter continues, because during his run for a state court judgeship, Boggs told voters that the way he voted as a state legislator reflected “where I stand,” implying that his judicial rulings would be consistent with his past legislative votes.

Earlier, a Vermont group used a petition to urge the committee’s chair, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), to vote against Boggs’ confirmation. Faithful America, which describes itself as “the largest and fastest growing online community of Christians putting faith into action for social justice,” wrote:

“Christians don’t want a right-wing judge who misuses our faith. He built a political career by bragging about his ‘Christian values’–which apparently include fear-mongering about ‘homosexual Boy Scout leaders’ and posting the names of abortion providers online so they can be threatened and harassed. Boggs has shamelessly exploited Christianity to advance a far-right agenda, once going so far as to circulate a campaign flyer telling voters that because ‘my parents taught me quality conservative Christian values … I support the right to bear arms … I oppose same-sex marriage.'”

The Washington Post has strongly supported the Boggs’ confirmation because it thinks he distanced himself from his votes as a state legislator. The editorial goes farther to state that only his judicial performance, not his legislative history, should be an issue in the proceedings. His judicial performance, however, may also be in question.

Boggs has been linked to two political contributions that call into question his judicial ethics. While he was a sitting judge in 2012, the Committee to Elect Mike Boggs contributed $1,500 to the group Georgia Conservatives in Action (GCA). Earlier, in 2004, when he was running for a judgeship, Boggs served on the Bush-Cheney campaign’s Democrats for Bush National Steering Committee in the state of Georgia. Because GCA endorses candidates for office, Boggs contribution may violate the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct that requires judges to not only “avoid all impropriety” but must also avoid even the “appearance of impropriety.” It specifically prevents judges from contributing to a political organization.

Democrats also make bad choices in advocating for judicial nominees. Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have recommended Ward Armstrong for the federal bench. Armstrong touts an “A” rating from the NRA, and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia gave him a 0 percent rating in five years. He voted to nullify Obamacare and opposed the Cap and Trade bill. Publicity forced him to apologize for a sexist joke about a colleague on the legislative floor. He voted to make it more expensive for abortion clinics to operate, to allow concealed guns in bars, to bar undocumented immigrants from enrolling in state schools, to ban same-sex marriage, and to deny mortgages to same-sex couples.

These activist judges are going to be on the bench for as long as they wish. It’s time to find judges who follow the Constitution rather than ruling according to their fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

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