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May 20, 2014 1:16 PM Lewis Deep-Sixes the Boggs Nomination

By Ed Kilgore

There was some non-primary, non-Michelle Nunn news out of Georgia yesterday of national significance: U.S. Rep. John Lewis came out strongly against the nomination of state judge Michael Boggs for a District Court position. This probably kills the nomination, and the package of nominations the Obama administration had negotiated with Georgia’s two Republican senators. HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery has the basics:

Even though he doesn’t serve in the Senate, Lewis’ voice carries a lot of weight in the upper chamber. Senate Democratic leaders and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have said they wanted to consult with the Georgia congressman before making a final decision on Boggs.
But some critics of Boggs have been puzzled by Lewis’ silence in recent weeks. He publicly opposed Boggs when Obama announced his nomination in January, but as the confirmation process got underway, he remained quiet on the matter.
Tensions grew to the point where Lewis drew a rare rebuke on Sunday from fellow Georgia Democratic Rep. David Scott, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that she had spoken to Lewis and suggested he had signaled support for Boggs’ inclusion in a package deal of judicial nominees.
“John Lewis has betrayed Georgia if this is his new position,” Scott said Sunday. “He is speaking for the White House and not women, African-Americans or gays with this new position, and he has turned his back on his own supporters.”

Coming from a Georgia colleague, that was pretty shocking, particularly aimed at one of the most universally respected members of Congress, with a civil rights record no one can rival.

In any event, Lewis’ statement yesterday left no ambiguity:

I have tried to refrain from making public statements out of respect for my colleagues and the Senate process. I believe it is important to allow each candidate to be evaluated according to his or her own merits and to allow the Senate judicial nomination process to take its course. This willingness to permit due process is all that I have indicated in any conversation I may have had with my colleagues. I did not at any time indicate my support for the Boggs nomination or say that he had the backing of the African American community in Georgia.
Based on the evidence revealed during this hearing, I do not support the confirmation of Michael Boggs to the federal bench. His record is in direct opposition to everything I have stood for during my career, and his misrepresentation of that record to the committee is even more troubling. The testimony suggests Boggs may allow his personal political leanings to influence his impartiality on the bench. I do not have a vote in the Senate, but if I did I would vote against the confirmation of Michael Boggs.

Aside from the fate of specific nomination, what this turn of events effectively does is to place a boundary on what Republican senators can demand, and the Obama administration can accept, in the way of judicial “package deals.” I continue to believe that the ultimate problem here is less some sort of soft-headedness in the administration and more Pat Leahy’s atavistic determination to maintain the “blue slip” tradition that lets home-state senators obstruct (and indirectly dictate) judicial nominations. But Boggs going down will likely help on the margins.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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