Civil rights leaders call for Obama to withdraw Georgia judicial nominees

Greg Nash

Civil rights leaders and members of the Georgia congressional delegation on Monday called on President Obama to withdraw his nominees for federal courts in the state over concerns about their views and lack of diversity.

“The group cites serious concerns that the proposed candidates do not adequately reflect the diversity of the northern district and that the selection process lacked meaningful community input,” the office of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said in a statement.

"Additionally, the coalition finds it troubling that several nominees include persons who have advocated in favor of Georgia’s voter ID laws and for including the Confederate Battle Emblem as part of the Georgia State Flag.”

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Those joining Lewis in the demand include the civil rights leaders Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rev. C.T. Vivian, as well as Democratic Reps. Hank Johnson and David Scott, according to Lewis’s office.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Obama administration reached a deal with Georgia’s Republican senators in September to appoint three nominees to the district court whom they had cleared, in exchange for allowing through the nomination of Jill Pryor, whom the senators had been blocking, to the Eleventh Circuit. Judge Julie Carnes, an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, is also in line for promotion to the circuit court.

Among the district court nominees drawing objections from the state’s Democrats are Mark Cohen, who defended Georgia’s voter ID law in court, and Michael Boggs, who as a state legislator voted to keep the Georgia state flag that included a Confederate battle emblem.

The civil rights leaders and House members also point to the fact that only one out the round of six nominees is a racial minority.

Shortly after the deal was reported in September, the Georgia Democratic lawmakers wrote to White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler saying they were “disappointed, shocked, and chagrined” to read reports of the deal that had been struck with the Georgia senators. 

A White House aide pushed back on the delegation's stance by pointing to the "blue slip" tradition in the Senate that gives senators an effective veto over judicial nominees to federal courts in their state. In 2011, Obama nominated Natasha Silas, an African-American woman, to the district court in Georgia, but the Georgia Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson blocked her. The aide noted 18 percent of Obama's confirmed judges have been African-American, compared to 8 percent under President Bush and 16 percent under President Clinton.