When voters elect a president we are also electing the person who will choose our federal judges. We expect that our president will pick judges who are qualified and fair, and who share the president's general approach to the law.
President George W. Bush moved the judiciary far to the right by carefully nominating conservative ideologues who would, on the whole, move the law to favor corporations over individuals, enforce a cramped view of equal protection and anti-discrimination laws, severely undermine women's reproductive rights, and weaken church-state separation. In contrast, President Obama's supporters could expect that he would nominate mainstream judges with strong records of commitment to the civil rights and liberties of individual Americans.
That is why President Obama's slate of nominees to fill six judgeships in Georgia is so puzzling, and so discouraging.
One nominee, Judge Michael Boggs, is a former state legislator who opposed the successful effort to remove the Confederate insignia from Georgia's state flag -- not a promising record for someone nominated to be a judge in a state whose population is nearly one-third African-American.
Another nominee, Mark Cohen, is an attorney who took the lead in defending Georgia's restrictive voter ID law. That's a strange choice from a president whose administration has been fighting in courts across the country to protect voters from suppressive laws, including Georgia's.
But it's not just who the president nominated; it's who he failed to nominate.
In a state with one of the highest African-American populations in the country, only one of the president's six nominees is a person of color. (Another African-American nominee, Natasha Perdew Silas, was blocked by Georgia's senators and not renominated this year.) This is especially egregious given that there have been only four African-American federal judges in the state's history, and never have more than two served at the same time.
Elsewhere in the country, President Obama has been very intentional about nominating diverse pools of qualified nominees, in an effort to have our federal courts reflect the people whom they serve. The Georgia slate is a troubling outlier.
Perhaps President Obama's nominees in Georgia are an attempt at "compromise" with Georgia's Republican senators. But that assumes that Senators Chambliss and Isakson are willing to compromise at all. A little-known custom in the Senate judiciary committee allows a senator to place an indefinite, unexplained hold on any nominee from his or her state. Georgia's senators have blatantly abused this process, making it nearly impossible for President Obama to fill the state's judicial vacancies. If the president's response to this obstruction is to give lifetime appointments to people who have actively worked against the legal principles championed by his administration, it's the American people who are getting the raw end of the deal.
Prominent African Americans in Georgia, including Rep. John Lewis, have been speaking out about President Obama's appalling slate of nominees in their state. I hope that the president will hear their concerns and nominate a qualified, diverse pool of nominees to Georgia's federal courts.