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White House: 'Of Course' Senate Democrats Should Vote Conscience On Michael Boggs

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WASHINGTON -- The White House is standing by Michael Boggs, President Barack Obama's beleaguered judicial nominee who has felt the wrath of progressive groups and Democratic lawmakers over his socially conservative record. But if Senate Democrats can't bring themselves to support him, the president will understand.

"The president of course believes that each senator should vote as he or she sees fit," White House press secretary Jay Carney said during his Wednesday briefing.

"The president supports voting your conscience as a general matter," he said.

Not that the White House is lessening its support for Boggs.

"The president would disagree with any assessment by anyone that reached the conclusion that Judge Boggs is not qualified for this post," Carney added. "The president believes he is, or we would not have nominated him."

Boggs, who is up for a lifetime post on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, took a beating from Democrats Tuesday during his Senate confirmation hearing over votes he took during his time as a Georgia state legislator. Among other things, Boggs voted to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, to keep the Confederate insignia on the Georgia state flag and to pass a measure that would post information online about the number of abortions performed by doctors.

The reason Boggs may seem out of step with Obama is because he's part of an all-or-nothing package of six judicial nominees that the president agreed to with Georgia's Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. The White House maintains it had to compromise on Boggs to get other Democrat-backed nominees into the package. And compromise it did: Four of the seven nominees are GOP picks, and only two are black, despite the state's large black population. But the tradeoff is that long-empty seats can get filled.

"Judge Michael Boggs was recommended to the president by Senators Isakson and Chambliss as part of a compromise to fill six judicial vacancies in Georgia," Carney said during Tuesday's briefing. "Senators Isakson and Chambliss have now also agreed to support the president’s nomination of Leslie Abrams to fill a seventh vacancy. These seven nominees include five women, one who would be the first female district judge on her court, and two who would be the first African-American female lifetime-appointed judges in Georgia."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, made it clear that neither he nor any other senators on his committee are bound by that agreement. His committee is expected to vote on Boggs in the coming weeks.

"I have noted before that there is no 'deal' negotiated with me as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee or with any of the other senators," Leahy said. "The constitutional responsibility of advice and consent resides with each individual senator, and there is no such thing as a binding deal that negates each senator's responsibility to determine the fitness of a judicial nominee for a lifetime appointment."

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