To the Obama administration, Michael Boggs is a Democrat, a former state representative and a longtime judge in state courts in Georgia. Mark Cohen is a former top aide to a Democratic governor of Georgia who has now become one of the leading attorneys in the state. In December, President Obama nominated both to be federal judges in Georgia, casting them as “highly qualified candidates.”
But to a coalition of black and liberal leaders, Boggs and Cohen are exactly the kind of people Obama should not be choosing for lifetime appointments.
Cohen, under the direction of Georgia’s then-Democratic attorney general, successfully defended the state’s voter ID law in court. As a state legislator, Boggs backed bills that would limit abortion rights as well as a 2001 provision to allow the state to keep using a Georgia flag that contained the Confederate battle emblem. And both are white males, even as Georgia’s population is about 45 percent non-white.
Perhaps more than any issue during his six years in office, some of Obama’s strongest black and liberal supporters are breaking with the president on these nominees in blunt, frank language. The critics have included members of the Congressional Black Caucus, longtime Obama supporters like the Rev. Joseph Lowery and groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Human Rights Campaign who have long worked closely with the administration.
“The views of some of these nominees reflect regressive views of past,” said Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) in a letter condemning the appointments.
“Black women vote in a higher percentage than any other group in Georgia, and they vote overwhelmingly Democratic,” said the former civil rights activist John Lewis, now a Democratic congressman in Georgia, in an interview with USA Today. He added, “I think the president should do better by them.”
Obama administration officials note that the president did not solely choose these candidates himself, but rather reached a compromise with Georgia’s Republican senators on Boggs and Cohen and several other judges. Under current Senate rules, senators effectively have a veto over nominees from their home states.
“Do we work with Republican senators to find a compromise, or should we leave the seats vacant?” White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler asked in an interview with The Huffington Post. “We believe it would be grossly irresponsible for the president to leave these seats vacant.”
This dispute has become unusually acrimonious between the president and the liberals and black activists who are some of his core supporters. Scott and other lawmakers were urging the president not to nominate Boggs and Cohen throughout last year, as rumors had been circulating that the pair would be chosen as a part of a broader deal with Georgia U.S. senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.
Georgia lawmakers sharply attacked Obama when he formally nominated Boggs and Cohen in December and since then have rallied a broader coalition. A few weeks ago, a group of CBC members urged the president to withdraw the nominations in a meeting with top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.
The administration so far is standing behind the nominees. But these liberal groups can still fight these judges. They still must be confirmed by the full Senate, and some Democratic senators may be weary of approving judicial nominees who strong voices in the party’s base oppose.