Senate Dems pound Obama judge pick

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday suggested President Obama’s nominee for a federal court in Georgia is in trouble.

The Democrats said they have deep concerns with Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs's voting record as a former state legislator, particularly on abortion, gay rights and civil liberties.

One by one, the Democrats hammered Boggs over whether that history foreshadows how he’d rule as a federal judge, with several lawmakers suggesting they might oppose Obama's pick when the time comes to vote.

Boggs defended himself on each issue, but it was unclear whether he’d made any inroads with the members.

“There is a question, I think, among many of my colleagues, whether … an activist conservative can become a judge that is not an activist judge,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “For my vote, I have to have certainty. And I don't know quite how to get it, in view of this record.”

“I do think there's a voluminous record here that well bears consideration,” echoed Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) went a step further, giving explicit warning that information Boggs excluded from the panel's written questionnaire process preceding Tuesday's hearing could alone sink the nominee.

“Some of my colleagues … have found the failure to be completely forthcoming and frank with this committee [to be] … a disqualifying factor that puts in jeopardy the nomination,” said Blumenthal, who was presiding over the hearing in the absence of Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The Democrats are facing pressure from several different fronts on the question of whether to promote Boggs to the federal bench. They're being pushed hard by liberal groups to oppose the nomination based on Boggs's record on a range of issues. But there's also pressure not to disrupt the Senate's "blue slip" system, which grants home-state senators outsized powers in deciding judicial picks. Finally, some are likely wary of bucking their president, who is defending his pick in the face of the outcry from his own liberal base.

Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R) and Johnny Isakson (R) both spoke Tuesday in support of all seven of those nominees, and the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee appear poised to back the whole slate.

“Nearly every nominee who comes through our committee has taken some position that we may disagree with,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the panel's ranking member. “I've given great deference to the home-state senators' support. ... [and] I hope my colleagues on the other side will show the same deference.”

The White House was also quick to challenge the Boggs criticism Tuesday, arguing that his recent tenure as a state judge should eliminate any concerns about his distant legislative record.

“Based on Judge Boggs's 10-year track record as a state trial and appellate court judge, the president believes he is qualified for the federal bench,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

But the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee aren't so sure. They focused their criticism largely around three hot-button issues on which Boggs had voted during his four-year tenure in Georgia's General Assembly, wondering how he would approach them as a federal judge.

Boggs had championed an amendment to Georgia's constitution to ban gay marriage, urging his colleagues at the time “to stand up for things that are common-sensical, things that are premised on good conservative Christian values.”

Pressed by a number of Democrats Tuesday, Boggs declined to say if his personal views on gay marriage have changed, but vowed to remain objective and stick to legal precedent in any event. 

“Whatever my personal beliefs are on that or on any other issue, they've never been relevant to how I decide cases,” he said.

Boggs had also backed a proposal requiring Georgia physicians to post the number of abortion-related procedures they performed over the last decade online — a move condemned by critics who feared for the safety of those doctors in the wake of several fatal attacks on abortion clinics around the country.

Boggs on Tuesday said he simply hadn't studied the issue and therefore “wasn't aware … of the public safety risks” such a database might cause.

“In hindsight, it was regretful that I didn't,” he said, adding that he would vote differently now.

That response didn't sit well with Blumenthal, however, who said he found it “incredible … that you would not understand that this amendment would put doctors at risk.”

Boggs also voted twice as a state legislator to keep the Confederate battle emblem as part of Georgia’s state flag — a record that has infuriated civil rights groups and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

Boggs said Tuesday that he was “offended” by the emblem, acknowledging that it was used “by organizations ... that espoused overt racism,” but voted to keep it there in deference to the views of his constituents.

“I found that one of the most challenging things of being a legislator was deciding when to vote the will of my constituents and when to vote the will of myself and my own conscience,” Boggs said.  

Pressed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Boggs said he “deserved criticism” for his vote and was “glad” his colleagues removed the Confederate emblem, despite his vote to keep it there. 

— This story was posted at 2:36 p.m. and updated at 5:03 p.m.