Washington Bureau

05.13.14

Obama Judicial Pick Grilled By Senate Democrats

A controversial Obama pick for a federal judgeship got hammered by Senate Democrats in a Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Judge Michael Boggs, one of seven nominees from President Barack Obama to the federal bench in Georgia, got grilled by Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, taking pointed questions on his past votes on abortion, gay marriage, and Georgia’s use of the Confederate flag during his time as a legislator in Georgia’s state house.

On several occasion, Boggs told the senators that he now regrets several of the most controversial votes he cast as a state representative.

Discussing his vote against changing the Georgia flag to remove the Confederate emblem, Boggs told Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) that he was offended by the Georgia flag at the time and considered the vote “agonizing” having served in the legislature just 17 days when the issue came up.

But he also added that he felt he was following the will of his constituents at the time.

“I found 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 conscience.”

“Overwhelmingly, these constituents desired that Georgians be permitted an opportunity to be able to vote on whether Georgia changed the flag and that’s why I voted the way I did,” he said. “However I am glad the flag was changed. It reflected something that I thought Georgia could do better with, frankly.”

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked Boggs about a vote to require public online disclosure of the names and address of doctors who perform abortions in Georgia, the judge said he should have voted differently.

“That was a floor amendment. I didn’t have any idea it was coming,” Boggs said. “In retrospect, particularly in light of what I have learned concerning the public safety issue, I should not have voted for that amendment.”

But Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed Boggs on the issue. “I find incredible the idea that you would not understand that this amendment would put doctors at risk.”

Boggs replied, “I wasn’t a perfect legislator, I’m not a perfect judge. But I regret that vote.”

Blumenthal told Boggs that he does not consider it “just another vote,” while Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) took the judge to task on what he felt was a misleading answer when the two met earlier in the month. Franken said he was disturbed by what he sees as the committee’s inclination to discard judicial nominees who, like Boggs, have expressed political opinions in the past. But, he said with a grimace, “I do judge by my meetings with people how forthright they are.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said what most Democrats on the committee seemed to be thinking- that she appreciated his pledge to always adhere to the rule of law, particularly on gay marriage and abortion, but that she had seen too many nominees come before her with similar statements only to see them become activist judges once they’re sworn into their new roles.

“There were long discussions about this and then bingo! It all changed,” Feinstein said. “It makes us feel very foolish to believe what we hear.”

Boggs told Feinstein what he had told senators earlier, that his personal opinions have no role in his judicial opinions and the best evidence of the type of judge he will be is the type of judge he has been for the last ten years at the state level.

Feinstein was not convinced.

“My vote depends on whether I believe that or not and for how long I can continue to believe it,” she said. ”What I want you to know is that I have to have certainty and I don’t know how to get it in view of this record.”