Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
If the judicial nomination of Michael Boggs gets derailed, at least one of Georgia's senators says it won't unravel a deal the two senators entered with the White House to select seven nominees for the federal bench in Georgia.
"The deal was we agreed on seven nominees for seven judicial appointments and asked for all of them to get a hearing at the same time, and that was the deal," said Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia. "Everybody lived up to what they said."
Boggs, a Georgia state judge who's been nominated to fill a district court seat, has drawn strong pushback from Democrats in both chambers of Congress, as well as from the civil rights community. During his tenure in Georgia's House of Representatives more than 10 years ago, Boggs supported keeping the Confederate emblem on the old state flag, called for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and voted for legislation to restrict abortion – including one provision to force doctors to publicly disclose how many abortions they perform.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has come out forcefully against Boggs, even saying that he might not allow Boggs a floor vote if his nomination makes it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Then House Democrat John Lewis of Georgia – a civil rights icon – added fuel to the fire this week when he released a written statement saying that Boggs' record is "in direct opposition to everything I have stood for during my career."
Boggs' nomination was the result of an agreement between the White House and Georgia's two Republican senators, Isakson and Saxby Chambliss. Under the "blue slip" tradition, prospective judicial nominees must receive the approval of home state senators before the Senate Judiciary Committee will process the nomination. That custom forces the White House to negotiate with home state senators as to whom it will nominate for the federal bench.
White House spokesperson Eric Schultz says Isakson and Chambliss specifically recommended Boggs.
"In the case of Georgia, we have been trying to fill these judicial vacancies for more than three years, but two of the President's nominees were blocked for nearly 11 months and returned at the end of 2011," said Schultz in an email. "Our choice is clear: do we work with Republican senators to find a compromise or should we leave the seats vacant? Four of these vacancies are judicial emergencies, and we believe it would be grossly irresponsible for the president to leave these seats vacant."
If Boggs, whose confirmation hearing was last week, doesn't make it out of committee – or if Senate leaders deny him a floor vote – Isakson said, as far as he's concerned, he won't object to the advancement of the other six Georgia nominations. The deal did not mandate that all seven nominees be treated as one inseparable package.
"We agreed to sign blue slips on all seven, if they'd agree on all seven to get a hearing. So everybody's getting an equal opportunity to get a vote and that's all we asked for," said Isakson.