WASHINGTON -- Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) announced Monday that he opposes President Barack Obama's controversial judicial nominee Michael Boggs, saying his socially conservative record on civil rights, gay rights and abortion rights "is in direct opposition to everything I have stood for during my career."
Lewis has emerged as a key figure in the debate over Boggs, who has been under fire from progressives over his record 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 require doctors who perform abortions to post online their names and the number of abortions they performed.
On Monday, Lewis referenced his personal history in stating his opposition to Boggs, who is up for a lifetime post on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
"I have worked tirelessly to rid Georgia, the South, and this nation from the stain of racial discrimination in any form, including the display of Confederate emblems in the Georgia state flag," he said. "I am not about to change that position now."
Even though he doesn't serve in the Senate, Lewis' voice carries a lot of weight in the upper chamber. Senate Democratic leaders and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have said they wanted to consult with the Georgia congressman before making a final decision on Boggs.
But some critics of Boggs have been puzzled by Lewis' silence in recent weeks. He publicly opposed Boggs when Obama announced his nomination in January, but as the confirmation process got underway, he remained quiet on the matter.
Tensions grew to the point where Lewis drew a rare rebuke on Sunday from fellow Georgia Democratic Rep. David Scott, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that she had spoken to Lewis and suggested he had signaled support for Boggs' inclusion in a package deal of judicial nominees.
"John Lewis has betrayed Georgia if this is his new position," Scott said Sunday. "He is speaking for the White House and not women, African-Americans or gays with this new position, and he has turned his back on his own supporters."
Lewis said Monday that he had remained silent out of respect for letting the Senate process work his will. His statement puts to rest speculation that he may have been quietly supporting the package of nominees that Obama agreed to with Georgia's Republican senators, which includes Boggs.
Scott, for one, was thrilled that Lewis clarified his stance.
"This is a great statement which clears out any doubt in the Senate that Georgia Democratic leaders are supporting the Boggs nomination," he said.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
Boggs had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, and Democratic opposition to him has been building ever since. All four Senate Democratic leaders, as well as a handful of other Democrats, have either said they have serious concerns with Boggs or they'll oppose his nomination outright. On top of that, the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week, thanking him for opposing Boggs.
The committee is likely to vote on Boggs in the coming weeks.
Read Lewis' full statement below:
I have fought long and hard and even put my life on the line for the cause of equal rights and social justice. My commitment to these ideals has never changed, and my record is solid and unwavering. I take a back-seat to no one and have been at the forefront for decades in defense of the right to marry, a women's right to choose, and the imperative of non-violence as a means of dissent. I have worked tirelessly to rid Georgia, the South, and this nation from the stain of racial discrimination in any form, including the display of Confederate emblems in the Georgia state flag. I am not about to change that position now.
I have tried to refrain from making public statements out of respect for my colleagues and the Senate process. I believe it is important to allow each candidate to be evaluated according to his or her own merits and to allow the Senate judicial nomination process to take its course. This willingness to permit due process is all that I have indicated in any conversation I may have had with my colleagues. I did not at any time indicate my support for the Boggs nomination or say that he had the backing of the African American community in Georgia.
Based on the evidence revealed during this hearing, I do not support the confirmation of Michael Boggs to the federal bench. His record is in direct opposition to everything I have stood for during my career, and his misrepresentation of that record to the committee is even more troubling. The testimony suggests Boggs may allow his personal political leanings to influence his impartiality on the bench. I do not have a vote in the Senate, but if I did I would vote against the confirmation of Michael Boggs.