A Georgia Court of Appeals judge, facing a lifetime appointment to the federal bench, is trying to move past his one-time claim that banning gay marriage is "common sense." Critics won't let him.
Progressive activists can't quite figure out what offends them more about Judge Michael Boggs: that he voted to make gay marriage illegal in Georgia, supported keeping the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag or backed abortion-access restrictions.
Boggs, the former state lawmaker and current judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, faces a lifetime appointment to the federal District Court in Atlanta. And his nomination – the result of a compromise between President Obama and the state's Republican U.S. senators – has pitted political allies of the president against him.
His record as a Democrat in the state House from 2001-04 is littered with nuggets like this one when Boggs supported amending the Georgia Constitution in 2004 to ban gay marriage:
“Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican … we seldom have opportunities to stand up for things that are common sense, things that stand up for Christian values,” Boggs said on the House floor.
That has led critics to label Boggs as nothing more than a right-wing ideologue dressed in a judge's robe, according to the AJC's deep dive into the nomination flap.
“More people are seeing more of the bad stuff he has done,” said state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta. “There’s no reason to believe he’s anything other than a right-wing ideologue on voting rights, gay rights or women’s rights.”
Fort said he was aware of Boggs’ leadership behind criminal-justice legislation backed by the state’s civil rights communities.
“But Antonin Scalia does some things every now and then that are good,” Fort said, referring to the conservative U.S. Supreme Court justice. “But, you know, it’s like one out of every 100 things he does.”
Boggs' nomination, along with a handful of others, prompted U.S. Rep. John Lewis to spearhead a press conference in December to rebuke the judicial picks. Several LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Action Fund and GetEQUAL Action, raised "serious concern" about Boggs' nomination in a Feb. 20 letter to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will vet his selection.
We believe that Boggs's record on reproductive rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights is especially troubling in a nominee to the federal bench. Litigants in Georgia, and the nation as a whole, deserve a judge whose commitment to equal justice is clear.
Supporters of Boggs don't seem concerned about his record as a state lawmaker.
“I don’t think it’s fair to judge somebody’s judicial temperament by their votes taken in the House,” said state House Minority Whip Carolyn Hugley, a Columbus Democrat who served with Boggs in the Legislature. “In my view the question is for a judge, does that person have the capacity to look at issues and review them fairly. I think Mike can do that without a problem.”
UPDATE | A reader pointed us to a more detailed takedown of Boggs' support of banning gay marriage in Georgia. It was provided to the Daily Report by state Rep. Karla Drenner, one of three openly gay House members.
State Rep. Karla Drenner, the first openly lesbian woman elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, served with Boggs during his four years there. She told the Daily Report, "He doesn't depict any of the values the Obama administration stands for. … I don't know why we would want to appoint someone for life who doesn't share the visions, the values that this current president has."
Drenner described Boggs as "a vocal opponent" of same-sex marriage and identified him as "the first Democrat to come out in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban it in Georgia. At the time, the state already had a law on the books barring same-sex marriage, and Drenner called the constitutional amendment "one of the most contentious issues" the legislature has faced.
Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, recorded the resulting debate on the resolution in February 2004, including Boggs' introductory speech, which she supplied to the Daily Report. In that speech, Boggs said, "It's my opinion, both as a Christian, as a lawyer and as a member of this House, that it's our opportunity to stand up in support of this resolution."
"I think it's important to recognize the dangers that we face with respect to activist judges, with respect to mayors who are operating in derogation of current state law," he continued.
"I submit to you that proposing a constitutional amendment that, in fact, mirrors the language, for the most part, that is ... codified in Georgia's Defense of Marriage Act will give us an additional safeguard," Boggs said, according to a transcript of Drenner's recording. "It will, in fact, prohibit state constitutional challenges to the proposition … that is outlined in Georgia law already. … 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 [seen] 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. I'm going to ask all of you like me to support this proposition."
In recalling that debate, Drenner said, "I don't think that Judge Boggs, in this new capacity, would be any friend to the gay community or any other progressive agenda that the Obama administration has supported. … He's going to be part and parcel of the reason why the South won't move forward. Look at his history: no on same-sex marriage, no on a woman's right to choose, no on changing the flag."
That Boggs omitted from his Senate questionnaire his sponsorship of the socially conservative legislation "shows that he knew they are points of contention, and he has probably not changed his opinion," she said. "Either by omission or commission, it is still a lie."