WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of the Obama administration's staunchest allies in Congress, announced his opposition Thursday to Michael Boggs' nomination to the federal bench, dealing a strong if not fatal blow to the former Georgia state lawmaker's confirmation hopes.
"Somebody should have looked a little more deeply into his record," Reid said of Boggs, nominated to the U.S. District Court in Georgia. He faced sharp questioning at a recent confirmation hearing into his past support for state proposals to post information online about doctors who perform abortions and to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Georgia flag.
In his testimony, Boggs said that as a state lawmaker, he was representing his constituents' views. He said he now believes his vote on abortion doctors was wrong, and he's glad the Confederate emblem was later removed from the flag.
The Democratic-controlled committee has yet to schedule a vote on the nomination, and some lawmakers submitted questions for Boggs to answer before that can happen. Even if the panel does approve the pick, Reid pointedly refrained from saying Boggs should automatically receive a vote in the full Senate.
At the same time, the administration worked to build support for a second nominee, dispatching departing White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and her successor, W. Neil Eggleston, to meet with Democratic senators to discuss David Barron's appointment to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Barron is a former Justice Department official who authored secret legal opinions justifying the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born al-Qaida leader. Under pressure, administration officials agreed to let senators read unedited copies of all written legal advice that he wrote on the use of lethal force against U.S. citizens in counterterrorism operations.
Reid's announcement on Boggs marked a turnabout in a long-running political drama in which the president's judicial nominees have played starring roles.
Democrats unilaterally changed the application of the Senate's venerable filibuster rules last year to eliminate the requirement of a 60-vote majority to overcome opposition by a minority of critics. They did so after accusing Republicans of slowing confirmation of Obama's picks for the court to a crawl.
Republicans countered that Obama's selections had been winning confirmation at a rate of nearly 100 percent, disputing charges that they were guilty of obstruction.
The White House offered no immediate reaction to Reid's announcement. Earlier in the week, spokesman Jay Carney defended the pick in the wake of the confirmation hearing, saying, "Of all the recent criticisms offered against Michael Boggs, not one is based on his record as a judge for the past 10 years" in state courts.
Boggs was nominated as part of an agreement between Obama and Georgia's two Republican senators, Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, to fill seven vacancies on the bench in the state.
Isakson said the agreement was that all seven "would all go before the (Judiciary Committee) at the same time," and did not extend further.
In addition to Reid's comments, other members of the Senate Democratic leadership have expressed concerns about Boggs' record. Additionally, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Judiciary Committee, made clear he was not part of the White House's agreement with the two Georgia senators.
In his testimony earlier in the week, Boggs said that, if confirmed, he would rule based on judicial precedents. "I can separate any political or partisan or public policy position I may have from my ability to be an impartial decision-maker," he said.
Democrats also are upset that while in the state legislature, Boggs supported a proposed amendment to the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. He told the committee his position on that issue "may or may not have changed since that time."