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How an Obama Nominee Can Still Stall Out in the Senate How an Obama Nominee Can Still Stall Out in the Senate

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How an Obama Nominee Can Still Stall Out in the Senate

The fate of Michael Boggs's nomination to a Georgia District Court shows just how tumultuous the nomination process can be, even in a changed Senate.


photo of Elahe Izadi
June 18, 2014

It's been months since the Obama administration nominated Michael Boggs to serve on Georgia's U.S. District Court, and nearly a month since he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And he still hasn't gotten a vote.

While Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has moved ahead the other nominations for Georgia's courts, Boggs's has been held back. "More time is needed to follow up on his recent testimony before his nomination will be scheduled for a vote," Leahy said in a statement last week.

Boggs went before the full committee back in May, where he received a grilling for his record as a conservative Democratic Georgia state legislator on issues ranging from abortion to the Confederate flag. Since then, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat Dick Durbin, and others have said they are against Boggs's nomination, or will vote against it in committee.


Boggs's nomination was the result of a deal struck by the White House and Georgia's two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. They had agreed to release their two-year hold on a Circuit Court nominee in return for Boggs's nomination to the District Court. The deal includes six other nominees, the rest of whom are being moved ahead by the Judiciary Committee.

In addition to Boggs's testimony, there are now more than 60 pages of written responses to follow-up questions posed by senators after his hearing.

One such question came from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who asked Boggs about his vote to move an "English-only" bill through the Georgia Statehouse. Introduced in February 2004, HB 1411 would have prohibited state agencies, counties, and municipalities from using or printing official documents and forms and transacting business in languages other than English, as well as repealing some existing exemptions. Boggs voted to move the bill ahead via the procedural motion to engross. The bill eventually failed.

Feinstein wrote that she was "concerned about the serious implications of this bill had it been enacted—essentially barring first responders, police officers, physicians, 911 operators, or a whole host of other state or local government employees from communicating with non-English-speaking individuals." She asked Boggs whether he considered such ramifications before voting to engross the bill.

"I do not recall what my position was on that bill 10 years ago or even if I had formed an opinion on it. As such, I do not recall whether I considered these sorts of situations or other ramifications prior to voting to engross this bill," Boggs wrote in response.

Additionally, Boggs explained his vote by pointing out that the Georgia House Democratic leadership had also voted for it: "It was not entirely unusual for me to follow the lead of my caucus on procedural votes such as motions to engross."

That exchange follows other written answers on what he knew regarding the public safety risks posed to abortion doctors when he supported a Georgia amendment to require doctors to post their names and number of abortions they performed online.

The controversial pick has sparked outrage by abortion-rights and civil-rights groups, as well as the revered civil-rights icon John Lewis.

Boggs, to the surprise of many, hasn't withdrawn his nomination. And the White House, for its part, is standing by its nomination of Boggs to receive a lifetime appointment on the federal bench. "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," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in May.

When asked if Obama supports Democrats "voting their conscience" on this nomination, Carney said, "The president supports voting your conscience as a general matter."

The prolonged debate is taking place after the Senate changed its rules late last year to allow most judicial nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority (read: with only Democratic votes needed). Even still, Obama picks aren't always getting through the upper chamber.

It's an open question as to how far the administration will push Democrats on the Boggs nomination. But, at least for now, it doesn't seem they are pushing very hard. Just look at how the White House reacted when its pick to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Debo Adegbile, failed because Democrats blocked it: Obama called it "a "travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant." And Durbin had told reporters the White House went on a "full-court press" to garner support. Even Vice President Joe Biden was dispatched to the Senate floor, in case his vote was needed to break a tie.

But it's not looking like there will be any vice presidential attempts at heroics for Boggs. Even if he makes it through the Judiciary Committee this summer, without Reid's backing, he may not even get to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the nomination in the story's sub-headline. Michael Boggs has been nominated for a Georgia District Court.

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