Obama Judicial Nominee Gets A Hostile Reception From Democrats

The Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing from a controversial nominee for the Georgia federal district court bench. Though President Obama nominated him, many Democrats take issue with his history.

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One of President Obama's most controversial picks for the federal bench faced a barrage of hostile questions from Democrats, during his confirmation hearing today. Michael Boggs is a state judge in Georgia. He was nominated to the federal district court as the result of a deal between the White House and Georgia's two Republican senators.

As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent the morning hammering away at Boggs' conservative record.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Although there were seven Georgia nominees in the hot seat today, one man with thick salt-and-pepper hair did almost all the talking. He began many of his answers with a flutter of blinking.

JUDGE MICHAEL BOGGS: I might have made some mistakes. I wasn't a perfect legislator. I'm not a perfect judge.

CHANG: Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee kept returning to one central question about Michael Boggs: Could a conservative activist become a non-activist judge. For months, Boggs' nomination has drawn heat from the civil rights community for positions he took as a member of the Georgia House of Representative, more than 10 years ago. He called for a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, he voted for bills to limit abortion, and he supported keeping the Confederate emblem on Georgia's old state flag.

Here's Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Do you believe that Confederate flag issue had anything to do with the issue of race?

BOGGS: You know, when that flag was passed in 1956, Senator, there was no legislative history. I wasn't a flag historian then, nor am I now.

CHANG: But Boggs says he's since decided the old flag is offensive, after learning its design was largely an angry response to the Supreme Court's desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Boggs' explanation now for his votes back then: He was simply channeling his constituents.

BOGGS: I've found that one of 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 own conscience.

CHANG: And the will of his conservative constituents usually won out, particularly when it came to abortion. Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut asked him about legislation that would have required doctors to disclose how many abortions they perform.

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: That amendment came within a few years after and before attacks on doctors who provided abortion services. Would you agree with me that it was a mistake to support that kind of amendment?

BOGGS: In light of what I subsequently learned, yes sir, I don't think it would be appropriate to be listing the names of doctors that have performed abortions.

CHANG: Boggs said he expects his role as a judge will be completely different because it will free him from the constraints of public opinion.

BOGGS: The comforting part about being a judge is that that the law should prevail in each and every case. Sympathy for the party, empathy for the party has no role.

CHANG: The number Boggs kept dropping was 14,000, 14,000 cases he has decided as a state judge. Never once, he says, letting his political or religious views govern. His confidence prompted Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California to bring up past Supreme Court nominees, who also promised to keep personal politics out of judging, but then changed course.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: And it makes us feel very foolish to believe what we hear. So, for me, I have to make a judgment whether you mean what you say.

CHANG: Senators say they'll be sending Boggs more questions in the days to come. No committee vote on him has yet been scheduled.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.

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