WASHINGTON -- Michael Boggs raised some eyebrows during his Senate confirmation hearing last month when he defended his vote for a contentious abortion measure, saying he'd never heard of doctors being killed by radical anti-abortion protesters. But now, he's changing his tune.
Boggs, a former Georgia state legislator who President Barack Obama has tapped for a lifetime post on the federal bench, told the Senate Judiciary Committee he wasn't aware of the public safety risks posed by a 2001 amendment that would have required doctors who perform abortions to post their personal information and the number of abortions they performed online. In fact, Boggs said he'd never even heard of a health clinic being attacked or an abortion provider being murdered.
Democrats on the committee, many of whom are already skeptical of Boggs given his socially conservative record on abortion, civil rights and gay rights, couldn't get past his answer.
"There is clearly a very powerful history of violence linked to doctors providing these services," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). "I find frankly incredible the idea that you would not understand that this amendment would put doctors at risk."
"Doctors were murdered for this, and yet you were not aware of that at all?" asked Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).
"I wasn't," Boggs said.
Boggs said he regrets his vote and gave senators several excuses for it. He said he wasn't paying attention when the amendment came up, it wasn't his amendment, it wasn't his bill being amended, nobody explained the amendment to him and he didn't read it. But his argument that he'd never heard of violence being directed at abortion providers was the most curious, given the widespread news coverage of the issue at the time and the debate that took place on the Georgia House floor about the amendment's risks right before Boggs cast his vote.
This week, Boggs is offering another explanation. In new materials provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Boggs said was aware of stories of abortion providers who had been killed at the time. He just didn't link those instances to the amendment he voted for.
"By my testimony to the Committee, I did not intend to convey categorically that I was generally unaware of claims of violence against physicians that perform abortions," Boggs says in 74 pages of written responses to questions that senators submitted to him after his hearing. "I would have been aware of some of the cases of violence at that time, although I do not recall specifically hearing any of these concerns raised relative to this amendment."
Committee members had a range of follow-up questions for Boggs, but Blumenthal homed in on Boggs' self-described lack of awareness about violence aimed at abortion providers. He asked for details on how often Boggs read his local paper at the time, what publications he read, if he talked to Democratic colleagues about the amendment and if he wondered why he was one of just a handful of Democrats who supported it.
Boggs maintained he didn't talk to Democratic leaders or his colleagues about the amendment, and didn't wonder why so many of them opposed it.
"If you wondered, did you ever ask any of your colleagues why they voted no?" asked Blumenthal.
"I did not wonder," said Boggs.
Franken also had follow-up questions for Boggs on his abortion amendment vote. He asked if he was aware that the amendment had come up for a vote twice in the Georgia House, if he had talked with his colleagues about the measure in the month and a half that passed between those two votes, and if he knew his home-state paper had published an editorial on the risks of the amendment one month before Boggs voted for it.
Boggs responded that he didn't remember talking to anyone about the measure, and has no memory of reading the editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
For now, Boggs is awaiting his confirmation vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That markup hasn't been scheduled yet, and a committee aide said staff is still reviewing Boggs' latest written responses. The aide noted that senators may have additional questions for Boggs even after this round, which could mean a longer wait before the markup.
The White House has stood by Boggs, insisting he's qualified to serve on a Georgia district court, despite months of criticism from progressive groups and Democratic lawmakers over his nomination. A request for comment from a White House official on Boggs' latest statements was not returned.
Obama is backing Boggs because he's part of an all-or-nothing package of seven judicial nominees agreed upon by the White House and Georgia's two Republican senators. Their agreement was simply to get all nominees a hearing, which has happened, so each nominee in the package is free to move forward independently now. It's unclear whether Boggs has the votes to move forward.