Congressman John Lewis continues fight against Obama over judicial nominees

Lewis: 'It's not a pretty picture. It's not easy to stand up to your president and say you got it wrong.'


The unlikely public skirmish between Congressman John Lewis, D-Atlanta, and President Barack Obama over federal judicial nominees in Georgia appears likely to continue well into 2014.

A few days before Christmas, the longtime U.S. representative joined other metro Atlanta lawmakers and civil-rights activists to denounce Obama's recent nominees to Georgia's federal bench. In an effort to fill several judicial vacancies in the state's courts, Obama struck a deal with Georgia U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss. The two had blocked the president's previous picks thanks to an outdated "blue slip" tradition that enables senators to block such nominees in their home state. The agreement would clear the way for 11th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Jill Pryor, one of Obama's picks, in exchange for the president's support for several of the Congressmen's federal bench choices.

But that deal hasn't sat well with many of Obama's major supporters in Georgia. The civil-rights coalition is opposing the federal nominees due to their lack of diversity and past voting records. Critics point out that three of the judicial picks are white males and all have Republican ties. Mark Cohen, an attorney who defended Georgia's voter ID laws, and Michael Boggs, a former state lawmaker who voted to keep the confederate symbol in the state's flag, have both raised concerns among the Georgia Democratic faction.

Lewis and other metro Atlanta Congressmen want the White House to start the judicial nomination process from scratch. USA Today's DeWayne Wickham yesterday spoke with Lewis about the issue:

There has never been a black female Democrat appointed to a federal judgeship in Georgia, Lewis pointed out during a telephone interview. "Black women vote in a higher percentage than any other group in Georgia," and they vote overwhelmingly Democratic, he said. "I think the president should do better by them."

At stake in this fight, opponents of the backroom deal say, are some hard-won civil rights victories that might be undermined if these appointments are confirmed. Also at risk, it seems, is the special relationship between Lewis, an icon of the 1960s civil rights movement, and President Obama, who in 2010 awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom for dedicating his life "to shattering barriers and fighting injustice."

If Obama moves forward, his Capitol Hill supporters, which also include metro Atlanta Congressman David Scott and Hank Johnson, are threatening to speak out against the picks during forthcoming Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.

"It's not a pretty picture," Lewis told USA Today. "It's not easy to stand up to your president and say you got it wrong. But we've got to look beyond the next three years (of Obama's presidency). These people are going to get a lifetime appointment."