Anti-gay judge finalist for Georgia Supreme Court

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Two finalists for open seats on the Georgia Supreme Court include a current judge with an anti-gay past and a state lawmaker who voted for controversial anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bills.

Michael Boggs (photo left), a former state lawmaker and current Georgia Court of Appeals judge, and state Sen. Charlie Bethel (photo right) are among 13 finalists for three seats on the state Supreme Court. Gov. Nathan Deal, who interviewed the candidates, will make the appointments. 

Boggs, Bethel and the baker's dozen of finalists were culled from 137 nominations for the court and presented to Deal by the Judicial Nominating Commission. All three will start work in January, according to the Daily Report.

When Boggs was nominated in 2014 for a seat on the U.S. District Court, activists pounced on his legislative and judicial record that included rallying against gay marriage and gay Boy Scouts, while supporting the Confederate flag and abortion restrictions.

He tried to walk back his anti-gay rhetoric as a lawmaker and judicial candidate by expressing regret for not being more “articulate.” By when he was venting his anti-gay opinions in 2004, being articulate wasn't a problem for Boggs.

“I tell you that and I submit to you that whether you’re a Democrat or whether you’re a Republican, whether you’re rural, from a rural area, like myself, or whether you represent an urban area, we have opportunities seldom in my short tenure in the legislature to stand up for things that are commonsensical, things that are premised on good conservative Christian values, and in this instance in particular, to support the sanctity of marriage.”

In 2014, Boggs avoided saying whether he agreed with Georgia dropping its sodomy ban in 1998, or the U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated a similar ban in Texas in 2003.

Additional background on Boggs from the Daily Report:

Boggs, 53, is a Georgia Court of Appeals judge, having been appointed to that post by the current governor in 2012. He has also helped lead the governor's signature project by serving as co-chair of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform. He's a former Waycross Judicial Circuit Superior Court judge. He was in private practice for 24 years before that in Atlanta and his home town of Waycross. Boggs made national news when Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked his nomination for a federal judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia by Democratic President Barack Obama, which has the support of both Georgia's Republican senators. Boggs' critics cited conservative votes he case as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives. Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, both Republicans, made their continuing support for Boggs clear with letters of recommendation for the Supreme Court. Other letter writers supporting Boggs include: former Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, now with DLA Piper; Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Georgia; superior court judges from Atlanta and Waycross, attorneys from some of Atlanta's top firms and fellow members of the Council of Criminal Justice Reform Home Depot GC Teresa Roseborough and Piedmont Health GC Thomas Worthy, co-chair with Boggs.

Bethel, a Republican from Dalton, has voted for anti-gay legislation as a state lawmaker. In March, Bethel voted for a sweeping anti-gay “religious freedom” bill that was later vetoed by Deal. In 2015, Bethel also voted for the anti-LGBT “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that later stalled in the House.

Additional background on Bethel from the Daily Report:

Bethel, 40, is a Republican state senator from Dalton who has served as the governor's floor leader. Upon graduating from the University of Georgia law school in 1998, he clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pannell Jr. of the Northern District of Georgia. He practiced law for two years with Minor, Bell & Neal in Dalton. Then he worked as an in-house lawyer for 11 years at J&J Industries Inc. a carpet manufacturing company. This year, he started a mediation business, which he said he would disband if he is appointed.

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