WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats lambasted one of President Barack Obama's picks for a federal judgeship in Georgia on Tuesday, skewering him for his past votes on abortion and the Confederate flag.
It was unclear whether Michael Boggs' nomination to become a federal district judge in Georgia was in peril. He is now a judge on that state's appeals court.
At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats repeatedly challenged his votes as a Georgia state legislator a decade ago. They focused on his support for measures to post information online about doctors who perform abortions and to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Georgia flag.
At several points Tuesday, Boggs agreed with Democrats who said abortion doctors had faced attacks and threats from opponents of the procedure and that posting online information about them could jeopardize them further. He said at the time, he wasn't aware of that.
Asked by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., how old he was at the time, Boggs said he was 37.
"Thirty seven years old and a state legislator, and you were not aware of any of that," Franken said with a tone that sounded incredulous.
Boggs said as a state legislator, 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 state flag, saying Thursday that it was a symbol of organizations "that spouted overt racism."
In 1956, Georgia changed its flag to prominently feature the Confederate battle flag, which featured a diagonal blue cross with white stars over a red field. The current flag, without the Confederate emblem, was approved in 2003.
Democrats are also upset that while in the state Assembly, Boggs supported a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. He said his position on that issue "may or may not have changed since that time," but said his view on that and other issues has not affected his decision-making as a state judge would not do so in the federal judiciary.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended Boggs nomination, saying Obama believes he is qualified despite Democratic objections.
"Of all the recent criticisms offered against Michael Boggs, not one is based on his record as a judge for the past 10 years," Carney said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was non-committal about Boggs, saying, "We'll see" when reporters asked if the nomination would be considered by the full Senate. The Judiciary committee is not expected to vote on Boggs for at least a week.
Boggs was "recommended" to Obama by Georgia's two GOP senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, as part of a deal that will let the president fill seven federal judicial vacancies based in Georgia, Carney said.
That compromise broke a logjam that had kept Obama from plugging openings there for three years, said Carney. Chambliss and Isakson have leverage because of the Judiciary panel's tradition of using "blue slips," in which both home state senators are informally asked to consent — checking a box on a blue piece of paper — before a nomination advances.
Boggs said that as a federal judge, he would follow precedents from past legal decisions and added, "I can separate any political or partisan or public policy position I may have from my ability to be an impartial decision-maker."
Such comments drew skepticism from some Democrats on the panel.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she had heard past nominees make similar promises "and then bingo, it all changed" once they moved onto the federal bench.
"My vote depends on whether I believe that or not, and for how long I continue to believe that," Feinstein said.