Democratic Critics Of Obama Judicial Nominee Unmoved By New Choice For Bench

03/12/2014 08:17 pm ET | Updated Mar 12, 2014
AP

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has been fighting with members of his own party for months over a controversial judicial pick. But he appeared to make a peace offering with Tuesday's nomination of Leslie Abrams to serve as a federal district court judge in Georgia.

Abrams, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Georgia since 2010, would be the state's first black female judge if she's confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia -- a detail not lost on Georgia Democrats eager to boost their state's judicial diversity.

"The Abrams nomination is a good move in the right direction to fill the vacant judicial seats in Georgia," Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.). said Wednesday.

"I'm happy that this young lady, Ms. Abrams, was nominated to serve," said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). "She's qualified, she's paid her dues and she'll make an excellent district court judge."

It's been a while since a Democrat has praised an Obama Georgia judicial pick. For months, the White House has been under fire from civil rights leaders, abortion rights groups and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community over an Obama district court nominee for Georgia, Michael Boggs. During his time as a state legislator, Boggs voted to keep the confederate insignia on the Georgia state flag, to tighten restrictions on access to abortion and to ban same-sex marriage.

Another of the president's Georgia judicial picks, Mark Cohen, has come under attack for successfully defending Georgia's voter ID law in court. But progressives have singled out Boggs as the big problem, and more than two dozen groups have appealed to Senate Democrats to sink his confirmation.

Neither Scott nor Johnson said Abrams' nomination would be enough to make them relax efforts to derail Boggs and Cohen.

"The focus on a couple of the earlier unacceptable nominations will not stop until they are denied lifetime appointments," said Scott.

"When it's all said and done, I only have one craw sticking at me," said Johnson. "That is the former legislator who showed his political leanings with his votes to not get rid of the Confederate emblem on Georgia's flag, to make it more difficult for women to get the health care they need, and also for his stand on the constitutional amendment stating that marriage was between a man and a woman."

NARAL Pro-Choice America, which has been actively lobbying the Senate to reject Boggs, also signaled that Obama's latest nomination won't affect its plans.

"This will not change our focus, which is defeating the nomination of Michael Boggs," said Samantha Gordon, the group's director of public affairs. "Boggs' proactive anti-choice record is extreme and out of step with the majority of Americans."

The White House is backing Boggs and Cohen because they're part of an all-or-nothing package of six judicial nominees that the president agreed to last year with Georgia's Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Obama made major concessions in the deal -- four of the six nominees are GOP picks and just one is African-American. But the tradeoff for the White House is that other Democrat-backed nominees in the package can move forward after years of going nowhere.

Abrams isn't part of that package. But it's hard not to see her nomination as the White House trying to make nice with Democrats. A Chambliss aide said the White House didn't negotiate Abrams' nomination with Chambliss or Isakson, and neither senator had much to say about her when approached by The Huffington Post.

"I don't know her. I don't know her at all," Chambliss said. "We will follow the normal course of our review of her."

Isakson said he doesn't discuss judicial nominations, but said he'll put out a statement about Abrams at some point.

A White House aide did not respond to a request for comment.

For now, all eyes are on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has yet to schedule a hearing on any of the Georgia nominees. A committee aide said some paperwork remains unfinished.

Johnson said it's not too late for Obama to withdraw Boggs' nomination and replace him with someone else.

"That would hurt whatever agreement he had with the senators," Johnson said. "But I would not cry if the agreement was breached."

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