Top black Democrats this week reentered the public fight against an embattled Georgia judge selected by President Obama for the federal bench.
Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus were up in arms early in the year after Obama tapped Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs for the promotion, but they quickly became silent on the issue after meeting with a top White House official in February.
In a brief letter to Reid, CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) thanked the majority leader "for publicly expressing" his opposition to Boggs's ascension to the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, promising that the CBC will have his back. [READ THE LETTER HERE.]
"I respect and appreciate your concern for the people of Georgia and minority communities across the nation," Fudge wrote Thursday. "The Congressional Black Caucus stands with you."
Fudge hasn't always been so vocal on the topic. Although the CBC had planned a January press conference to protest a number of Obama's judicial picks in Southern states, including Boggs in Georgia, the event was canceled without explanation.
Several weeks later, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett met with CBC leaders, including Fudge, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and the members of the group's judicial nominations task force to address the lawmakers' concerns about the ethnic diversity of Obama's picks, as well as the track record of several nominees, particularly Boggs.
The White House has never swayed from defending its controversial pick, and Jarrett was clear during that meeting that the administration was sticking with Boggs despite the criticism.
A number of CBC members were outraged that the White House wasn't backing down. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), the most vocal opponent of Boggs, said after Jarrett's visit that Obama's position was "a tragedy."
"The president should have said, 'There's absolutely no way I want to go down in history as putting these kinds of people into federal court nominations against my own African American [people],'" Scott said at the time.
Still, CBC leaders left the Jarrett meeting downplaying any disagreement between the group and the White House. Indeed, Fudge said Jarrett had "pretty much" alleviated her concerns about the judicial picks. And Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who heads the CBC's judicial nominations task force, delivered a similar message.
"She addressed our concerns," Norton said.
With Thursday's letter to Reid, Fudge has made clear that the CBC has officially rediscovered its critical voice, a move being cheered by those who never lost theirs.
"She's put out, on letterhead, the official word that the CBC's opposed," Scott spokesman Michael Andel said Friday. "Her bringing the muscle of the whole Caucus in – that's a pretty powerful statement."
It's unclear if the CBC intends to stage any more protest efforts as the Senate Judiciary Committee gets closer to its vote on Boggs. A CBC spokeswoman said Friday that no events are planned, but did not rule them out.
Boggs, a conservative Democrat, had served as a state legislator between 2000 and 2004, and liberals on and off Capitol Hill have criticized his voting record on issues ranging from gay rights and civil liberties to women's reproductive health.
Among his most controversial positions, Boggs had championed an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage; voted to require Georgia doctors to post online the number of abortion services they performed over the last decade; and twice backed legislation to keep the Confederate battle emblem a prominent part of Georgia's state flag, a move to preserve "one of the most vicious symbols of hate and white supremacy" in the country's history, Scott charged earlier this year.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Boggs defended his track record. On the flag votes, for instance, he said he was simply representing the opinions of his constituents. On the abortion proposal, he said he was unaware of the public risk to the doctors who might be targeted for performing those services. In all cases, he said his personal views wouldn't encroach on his ruling of the law.
"Whatever my personal beliefs are," he said, "they've never been relevant to how I decide cases."
Few Democrats seemed convinced, and Reid churned headlines on Wednesday when he came out against Boggs.
"Unless I have a better explanation, I can’t vote for him," Reid told BuzzFeed. "This is a lifetime appointment. He's said some things and made some decisions I think are not very good.”
Both Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), another critic of Boggs's track record, have said they want to speak with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) before passing final judgment.
Durbin's office said Friday that the discussion hasn't transpired yet, but will happen "soon."
Lewis had been one of the earliest critics of Obama's controversial nominee, staging a protest press conference with civil rights leaders in December at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr., once presided.
Since then, however, the civil rights icon has held his tongue on Boggs, suggesting last week the issue is for the Senate to decide.
"We have our hands full on this side," he said.