February 20, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
White House silent on judicial nominee with anti-gay record
Josh Earnest, White House, Barack Obama Administration, press, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest has no comment on a judicial nominee with an anti-gay record. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest had no comment on Thursday regarding a controversial judicial nominee with an anti-gay record — despite calls from progressive groups on President Obama to take back the selection.

Under questioning from The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery, Earnest professed to have no knowledge of calls to remove Michael Boggs, whom President Obama tapped in December for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

“I haven’t seen the statements from the groups that you mentioned,” Earnest said. “I’ll see if we can collect some more information and get back to you with a specific reaction.”

Earnest declined comment during the briefing after the White House for more than a week hasn’t responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on calls to remove Boggs.

Progressive groups say they’re troubled by Boggs because of his record as a state legislator in Georgia. Among his votes were against removing the Confederate emblem from Georgia’s state flag; in favor of a “Choose Life” license plate that helped fund anti-abortion groups; and in favor of strengthening parental consent laws to require a photo ID and for parents to accompany daughters under the age of 18 to abortion clinics — with no exception for rape or incest.

More relevant to the LGBT rights movement, Boggs in 2004 voted for legislation authorizing the referendum on the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Georgia. It’s unclear whether he still holds that position, or, like many other lawmakers, he has since evolved to support marriage equality.

On Thursday, a group of 27 progressive groups — including a trio of LGBT groups, the Human Rights Campaign, GetEQUAL Action, and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — wrote to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge them to reject Boggs.

“We believe that Boggs’s record on reproductive rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights is especially troubling in a nominee to the federal bench,” the letter states. “Litigants in Georgia, and the nation as a whole, deserve a judge whose commitment to equal justice is clear.”

A Senate aide said the committee doesn’t have all of the paperwork in for Boggs and hasn’t yet scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Boggs, who received his law degree in 1990 from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, has since 2012 served as a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In 2000, Boggs was elected as a Democrat to the Georgia State House, where he held office until 2004. From 2004 to 2012, he was a Superior Court Judge of the Waycross Judicial Circuit of the First Judicial Administrative District of Georgia of the Georgia Superior Court, where he established and presided over the court’s felony drug court program.

Although the Task Force has already called on Obama to recall the nomination, the presence of HRC on the letter is notable because the organization had previously said it was awaiting Boggs’ hearing before making a judgment on the nominee.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he had no comment Thursday on the White House’s continued silence and deferred questions about HRC’s change in position to the letter.

According to The Huffington Post, Obama’s choice of Boggs is part of a package deal struck between the president and Georgia’s two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Four of the six nominees are GOP picks, and just one is black, but the trade-off is that other Georgia nominees in the package will now move forward after years of going nowhere.

Obama faces requests to remove Boggs as he met with black civil rights leaders on Tuesday to discuss issues including criminal justice reform and income inequality.

Asked whether Boggs came up during these discussions, Earnest referred to a White House blog posting on the event without mentioning in the controversial judicial nominee.

“I think there’s a blog post available at whitehouse.gov about the conversations that the president had with those leaders,” Earnest said. “They talked about the Affordable Care Act, and work in communicating to the American public, and particularly to individuals in the African-American community, the potential benefits that are available to them at healthcare.gov, and some of the protections that were put in place for consumers because of the Affordable Care Act. I know they had conversations about some of the ideas to criminal justice reform that the president and the attorney general both discussed. In terms of specifics, I can’t go beyond that, in terms of whether or not a specific judicial nominee came up.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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