John Lewis: The Senate’s Judge Whisperer?

The Georgia congressman and civil-rights icon will be instrumental in how the Senate deals with Michael Boggs, a controversial White House judicial nominee.

Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, looks on during a news conference on Capitol Hill, January 16, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
May 15, 2014, 1 a.m.

Top Demo­crat­ic lead­ers in the Sen­ate have an­nounced their op­pos­i­tion to — or sound like they need to be con­vinced in­to sup­port­ing — the con­firm­a­tion of a White House ju­di­cial pick who faces lib­er­al op­pos­i­tion. And they want to speak to House mem­ber and civil-rights icon John Lewis of Geor­gia about it be­fore they go any fur­ther.

Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id told BuzzFeed on Wed­nes­day that he’s op­posed to the nom­in­a­tion of Mi­chael Boggs to a Geor­gia fed­er­al Dis­trict Court. Boggs cast votes as a Demo­crat­ic state le­gis­lat­or on is­sues such as abor­tion, the Con­fed­er­ate flag, and same-sex mar­riage that cut against Demo­crat­ic pri­or­it­ies. Re­id said he planned to speak about the mat­ter with Lewis, who has pre­vi­ously been vo­cal in his op­pos­i­tion to Boggs. “John Lewis is my man in Geor­gia,” Re­id said.

The No. 2 Demo­crat in the Sen­ate, Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin, said Wed­nes­day that he he wanted to speak with Lewis be­fore mak­ing up his mind. Durbin sits on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee and ques­tioned Boggs about his vote as a state le­gis­lat­or to have the Con­fed­er­ate flag on the Geor­gia flag.

“I want to talk over some of the things Judge Boggs said yes­ter­day,” Durbin said. “John Lewis is my friend, and any fed­er­al judge in his state, where there are ques­tions raised about race — I wouldn’t con­sider a fi­nal vote un­til I talk to him per­son­ally.”

Lewis is a be­loved fig­ure on the Hill, re­garded highly by Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans alike and well re­spec­ted on civil-rights is­sues. Lewis was beaten and suffered in­jur­ies dur­ing the 1965 march from Selma to Mont­gomery, Ala., on what be­came known as “Bloody Sunday.” He was a lead­er in the move­ment dur­ing its height, serving as chair­man the Stu­dent Non­vi­ol­ent Co­ordin­at­ing Com­mit­tee and de­liv­er­ing a speech at the 1963 March on Wash­ing­ton.

The Geor­gia Demo­crat still plays an act­ive role on civil-rights and ra­cial mat­ters on the Hill. He’s lead­ing the push to pass a re­write of a por­tion of the Vot­ing Rights Act that the Su­preme Court struck down last year. High-rank­ing Re­pub­lic­ans, such as Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, have lately been em­phas­iz­ing their re­la­tion­ships with Lewis.

Lewis, along with oth­er mem­bers of the Con­gres­sion­al Black Caucus, quickly voiced op­pos­i­tion to Boggs’s nom­in­a­tion when Obama made it in Decem­ber. Lewis and oth­ers held a press con­fer­ence to de­nounce the nom­in­a­tion at the At­lanta church where Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr. once presided, and called on Obama to with­draw the nom­in­a­tion.

But Sen­ate Demo­crats have now turned their fo­cus on de­cid­ing wheth­er to ap­prove the nom­in­a­tion, rather than on get­ting the White House to with­draw it. And it’s un­clear wheth­er Lewis will push back hard now. The House is cur­rently on re­cess, but be­fore law­makers de­par­ted Wash­ing­ton, Lewis de­clined to elab­or­ate on the up­com­ing Sen­ate hear­ing. “We have our hands full on this side,” Lewis told The Hill.

The schedul­ing of Tues­day’s hear­ing on the nom­in­a­tion took many CBC mem­bers by sur­prise. The com­mit­tee re­cord re­mains open for a week, so law­makers still have time to sub­mit ques­tions.

Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Patrick Leahy said Wed­nes­day that he hadn’t re­viewed the hear­ing re­cord (he passed the gavel to Sen. Richard Blu­menth­al, a Boggs crit­ic, to chair the hear­ing). The com­mit­tee’s split of 10 Demo­crats and eight Re­pub­lic­ans means that Boggs could fail to ad­vance to the full Sen­ate if his nom­in­a­tion faces broad, im­me­di­ate Demo­crat­ic op­pos­i­tion.

Giv­en Re­id’s op­pos­i­tion, Leahy re­spon­ded, “Every sen­at­or has got a right to do what they feel is best.”

The nom­in­a­tion came out of a deal the White House struck with Geor­gia’s two Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors, who agreed to re­lease a two-year hold they had on a Cir­cuit Court nom­in­ee in re­turn for the nom­in­a­tion. A num­ber of oth­er nom­in­ees are also in­cluded in the deal, but the Boggs nom­in­a­tion re­mains the most con­tro­ver­sial; on Tues­day, Boggs faced scru­tiny from Demo­crats over his re­cord as a state le­gis­lat­or on votes ran­ging from same-sex mar­riage to abor­tion.

Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Johnny Isak­son of Geor­gia said that Re­id’s and Durbin’s de­sire to speak with Lewis first “is fine. I think every­body should do their due di­li­gence.”

“We worked very hard to come up with a great pack­age with the White House. I trust the pres­id­ent’s judg­ment, [White House Coun­sel Kath­ryn] Ruemmle’s judg­ment. All sev­en [nom­in­ees] are very qual­i­fied,” Isak­son said. “Every mem­ber ought to make their own de­term­in­a­tion.”

Leahy has em­phas­ized that sen­at­ors are free to vote their con­science on the nom­in­a­tion and that he was not part of the deal the White House made. Both he and Durbin said early Wed­nes­day even­ing they have not heard from the White House since the hear­ing.

“They don’t both­er to ask me about judges, so I wouldn’t ima­gine they would [call],” Leahy said. “They’re very busy people. They only talk to im­port­ant sen­at­ors.”

Per­haps if White House of­fi­cials really want Boggs’s nom­in­a­tion to go through — and the ad­min­is­tra­tion did re­it­er­ate its sup­port this week — they should talk to Lewis about it, too.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×