News Law and Policy

Obama Judicial Nominee’s Record on Civil Rights Worse Than Originally Disclosed

Jessica Mason Pieklo

New information released by NARAL Pro-Choice America and disclosed by Judge Michael Boggs himself details a career of opposition to civil and reproductive rights. Boggs was nominated by President Obama to be a federal district judge in Georgia.

Read more of our coverage on controversial judicial nominee Michael Boggs here.

The national reproductive rights advocacy organization NARAL Pro-Choice America is ramping up its campaign against Judge Michael Boggs, a nominee to be a federal district judge in Georgia. The campaign comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to consider a new round of judicial appointments and as further questions surface about Boggs’ record on civil rights.

Boggs currently sits on the Georgia Court of Appeals and is a former state legislator with a long history of opposition to reproductive and civil rights. As a legislator, he co-sponsored bills that would have made it harder for young women to get abortions, and that would have funded anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers. Boggs also voted to amend the Georgia constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and to preserve the symbol of the Confederate flag in the state flag of Georgia.

Boggs’ nomination was part of a deal struck in 2013 with Senate Republicans on judicial nominations. According to reports, the Obama administration agreed to appoint three nominees, pre-approved by Georgia Republican senators, to the federal district court of Georgia. In exchange, Republicans agreed to end their filibuster of the nomination of Jill Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Progressive groups oppose Boggs’ nomination, citing much of his record as a state lawmaker and the fact that conservatives forced his nomination as part of a deal to confirm Judge Pryor as evidence that Boggs isn’t qualified for the federal bench. But then reports surfaced that Boggs had to amend his application because he left out details about his time as a state lawmaker. The items that Boggs failed to disclose to the Senate Judiciary Committee include his sponsorship of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, legislation mandating that county courthouses feature the Ten Commandments, and a bill that would have created “Choose Life” license plates to fund crisis pregnancy centers in the state. In an April 10 letter to the judiciary committee, Boggs apologized for the omission, stating, “[I]n several instances in my original questionnaire, I omitted detail that I did not believe was responsive, based on the public questionnaires of other judicial nominees who had also served as state legislators.”

In addition to these omissions to the Senate Judiciary Committee, NARAL has uncovered information that questions Boggs’ fitness to serve on the federal bench. The new findings show that while serving in the state legislature Boggs voted in favor of an anti-choice amendment that would have required Internet-accessible profiles of doctors to include the number of abortion procedures the doctor had provided in the previous ten years. The Democratic leader of the state house at the time warned that the effects of such a measure could put physicians at risk. Boggs also voted in favor of an amendment that would create a committee composed of state politicians and the executive director of Georgia Right to Life to study the effects of “post-abortion syndrome.” Boggs also took an extreme position with regard to fetal “personhood,” voting twice in favor of amending a bill on criminal penalties for child abuse to define children as “both born and unborn.” The effect of this amendment would lay the groundwork to create fetal “personhood” rights and set the stage for prosecuting women for poor pregnancy outcomes, as well as re-criminalizing abortion.

In an email campaign to supporters, NARAL is asking its members to call their senators and demand that they question Boggs about his anti-choice record in Georgia. “New information has come to light that provides further evidence as to why Michael Boggs has no business being on the federal bench,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. “Our judicial branch is too important to risk appointing someone whose record and stated values are out of line with our nation’s commitment to women’s fundamental rights. The Senate Judiciary Committee should aggressively question the nominee about his anti-choice record or risk further eroding the constitutional rights that so many Americans have fought to realize.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee has a nominations hearing scheduled for May 13, but so far no nominees have been named on the hearing agenda. Both Georgia senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, turned in their so-called blue slips to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, which means Boggs and the other nominees in his deal are cleared for consideration, and that could happen as early as Tuesday.

News Politics

With Primary Wins, Clinton Is First Woman to Become Presumptive Nominee of Major Party

Ally Boguhn

Celebrating her victory at a rally in Brooklyn Tuesday night, the former secretary of state pointed to the historic nature of her campaign. "Thanks to you, we've reached a milestone: the first time in our nation's history that a woman will be a major party's nominee," declared Clinton.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared herself the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for the 2016 presidential election after a string of Tuesday night primary victories and a survey of superdelegates conducted by the Associated Press (AP).

Celebrating her victory at a rally in Brooklyn Tuesday night, Clinton pointed to the historic nature of her campaign. “Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone: the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee,” declared Clinton. “Tonight’s victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.”

Going on to praise rival Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for “the extraordinary campaign he has run,” Clinton pointed to the shared goals of the two campaigns. “Let there be no mistake, Senator Sanders, his campaign, and the vigorous debate that we’ve had about how to raise incomes, reduce inequality, increase upward mobility, have been very good for the Democratic party and for America.” 

Clinton went on to pivot to the general election, criticizing presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump as “temperamentally unfit to be president and commander in chief.” Clinton then spoke of the road ahead: “The end of the primaries is only the beginning of the work we are called to do,” she said. “But if we stand together, we will rise together, because we are stronger together.”

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Tuesday’s presidential primaries boosted Clinton’s delegate lead over Sanders, with wins in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. Sanders won both Montana and the North Dakota caucuses. NBC News reported that night that, projecting a win in California, Clinton had secured more than half of all pledged delegates in the Democratic primary:

Based on initial vote reports from California, NBC News has allocated 140 delegates to both Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders. That gives Clinton 2,043 delegates, more than half of the pledged delegates up for grabs throughout the primary season.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue, whose organization endorsed Clinton in January, reiterated the organization’s support for the former secretary of state in a Tuesday night statement. “Secretary Clinton’s victory tonight is a victory for all women because she is the model of a true champion for reproductive freedom,” said Hogue. “NARAL will be out in force to make sure Hillary Clinton is our next president—not Donald Trump.”

Clinton has been a vocal supporter of reproductive rights while on the campaign trail, though the Democratic candidate has also signaled her support for restrictions on some later abortions.

The former secretary of state reportedly spoke of the historical significance of a potential win Tuesday night during a campaign stop in California, prior to reports that she had become the party’s presumptive nominee.

“My supporters are passionate. They are committed. They have voted for me in great numbers across the country for many reasons,” said Clinton Monday according to the Washington Post. “But among the reasons is their belief that having a woman president would make a great statement—a historic statement—about what kind of country we are, what we stand for. It’s really emotional.”

Tuesday also marked the eight-year anniversary of Clinton’s speech conceding the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, which similarly mentioned the progress her campaign had made for women. “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it’s got about 18 million cracks in it and the light is shining through like never before,” said Clinton that night, urging her supporters to back her rival in the race for president.

AP first projected Clinton as the presumptive nominee Monday after conducting a “count of pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses and a survey of party insiders known as superdelegates,” ultimately concluding that the Democratic candidate had the required 2,383 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Sanders and his supporters swiftly condemned the media for calling the race before Tuesday’s primaries results were in. “It is unfortunate that the media, in a rush to judgment, are ignoring the Democratic National Committee’s clear statement that it is wrong to count the votes of superdelegates before they actually vote at the convention this summer,” said Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs in a Monday statement.

“Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination,” continued Briggs. “Our job from now until the convention is to convince those superdelegates that Bernie is by far the strongest candidate against Donald Trump.”

As the New York Times’ The Upshot blog explained, this is not the first time a count including superdelegates was used to declare a presumptive nominee. “The news networks projected that Mr. Obama was the presumptive nominee in the 2008 Democratic primary based on the same rules for tabulating superdelegates,” noted writer Nate Cohn Tuesday.

Politico reported last week Sanders would need “to persuade nearly 200 Hillary Clinton superdelegates to bolt from her camp” in order to win the nomination—a difficult feat given that thus far no superdelegates have made that switch and only about 30 changed candidates in 2008.

Even as Tuesday night’s results came in, Sanders pledged to continue his fight for the Democratic nomination. “Next Tuesday we continue the fight in the last primary in Washington, D.C. … And then we take our fight for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” said Sanders during a rally in California.

Analysis Abortion

‘Obstruction on Steroids’: Republicans Use Scalia’s Death to Try and Shut Down the Supreme Court

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Congressional Republicans’ promise to not even consider a replacement nominee until after the 2016 presidential election has highlighted a disturbing trend in American politics.

Read more of our articles on Justice Antonin Scalia’s potential successor here.

In the days following Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, congressional Republicans’ promise to not even consider a replacement nominee until after the 2016 presidential election has highlighted a disturbing trend in American politics. Although Republicans have blocked President Obama’s political agenda since the moment he took the oath of office, nowhere has this obstruction been more egregious than the federal judiciary.

While the chest-thumping from Republicans over a replacement for Justice Scalia has gathered the most press attention, the reality is our entire federal judiciary is in crisis thanks to Republican obstructionist tactics. Since President Obama took office, Republicans on the judiciary committee have consistently dragged out the confirmation process for or rejected outright his nominations.

The immediate result has been to slow down the federal courts to the point of crisis.

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There are currently 75 vacancies on the lower courts. Thirty-one of those vacancies are considered to be “judicial emergencies,” which means there are not simply enough judges on those courts to hear the number of cases being filed.

The number of judicial emergencies, for that matter, has increased by 158 percent since January 2015. There are also seven known future vacancies where judges have given their notice they will step down. Not surprisingly, most of these vacancies are clustered in conservative judicial districts, where an Obama appointment could potentially moderate the bench.

“In a number of situations we have very qualified nominees for circuit court judgeships, many are historic nominees,” explained Marge Baker, executive vice president of the progressive advocacy organization People for the American Way, in an interview with Rewire. “In Alabama we have what would be the first African American from Alabama to sit on the Eleventh Circuit. That would be huge. In Indiana it would be the first African-American woman from Indiana to sit on the Seventh Circuit. These are historic nominations of eminently qualified people and there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be filled.”

Compare this situation with that of the final two years of George W. Bush’s presidency, when Democrats took over the Senate after the 2006 midterm elections. In 2007, the Democratic Senate confirmed 40 of President Bush’s circuit and district court nominees. That was just in the Democrats’ first year as the majority. By the end of 2008, the Democratic-controlled Senate had confirmed a total of 68 judicial nominees.

By contrast, the newly Republican-controlled Senate confirmed 11 judges in 2015.

“This is Republican senators in this country saying they are not going to do their job, and it’s a job the Constitution requires them to do,” Baker said. “It’s an explosion of obstruction that we are seeing.”

And it’s an explosion of obstruction that is only getting amplified by the electoral cycle. In January 2016, the conservative pressure group Heritage Action threatened legislators with bad legislative scorecards, should they vote to confirm any more of the president’s judicial nominees.

For those nominees that do eventually get a vote, the confirmation process has been inexplicably delayed, with many nominees waiting more than 100 days for a confirmation vote. In almost every case, the nominee had strong bipartisan support and no opposition. Republicans just refused to act.

If the effect of Republican obstruction has been to bring the lower courts to a near standstill, their current strategy of blocking any Supreme Court nominee until after the election could bring the country’s highest court to a full stop. Consider it another form of government shutdown by the GOP.

“If the Republicans succeed in what they want to do, they are going to be leaving the Court without a ninth justice for at least a year and a half, or close to two terms of its work,” Baker said.

“It leaves you speechless, in terms of how do you deal with this level of disregard for the constitutional duty these senators were elected to perform?” she asked.

“On the one hand, this is part and parcel of the general obstruction the president has hit since the moment he took office,” Baker said. “What’s different and even more extreme [with the Supreme Court nomination] is there is no precedent for the party in the majority saying that they will not consider any nominee for the Supreme Court because it is the last year of the president’s term.”

“It is beyond the same-old thing. It is a crisis of constitutional proportions,” Baker continued.

So far, President Obama has shown little signs he’s going to play along with Republicans and hold a nomination back. And recent polling suggests the American public is also growing tired of the political posturing by conservatives around a replacement for Justice Scalia. The question for congressional Republicans, though, is do they care?

“There isn’t anything more sacred than what the Senate needs to do with regard to judicial nominations,” said Baker.

“This is obstruction on steroids.”

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