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
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
23 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×