William Thomas

A Political Win for the Very Idea of Justice

Contemplation of Justice

The question of Michael Boggs’ nomination to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Virginia has been something of a curious political football for President Obama; while Republicans have fought tooth and nail to oppose judicial nominees, it was Democrats and liberals who opposed Boggs’ nomination. With a nominee facing criticism of being overly political from his bench and supporting bigoted causes (e.g., racism, misogyny, homophobia), one might wonder why this president would even bother with such a nomination in the first place. And the answer, of course, is the arcane “blue slip” process, by which a president does not nominate a federal judge without the agreement of U.S. Senators from the state where that judge will preside.

Michael Boggs became the nominee because that is who Georgia Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chamblis wanted on the bench.

Democrats have succeeded in blocking the nomination. Jennifer Bendery brings the update for Huffington Post:

Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson (R) and Saxby Chambliss (R) said late Tuesday night that President Barack Obama won’t renominate Boggs next year for a lifetime post on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The news is a major victory for progressives who have fought Boggs’ nomination all year.

“It is with regret that we announce that the President will not re-nominate Judge Michael Boggs to the United States District Court for a third time. We were informed of the President’s decision by Denis McDonough, the President’s chief of staff, prior to Thanksgiving. We regret the President’s decision, as we have supported Judge Boggs throughout this process and remain steadfast in our support,” the senators said in a statement.

They continued, “Throughout the process, Judge Boggs has exhibited enormous restraint and the temperament expected of a jurist. These traits will serve him well for the opportunities we are confident the future holds for Judge Boggs. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the people of Georgia.”

A White House spokesman confirmed that Obama won’t renominate Boggs, but offered no additional comment.

Those who follow American politics closely already know why progressive and liberal groups are celebrating. For everyone else, it is simply enough to bear in mind that the President Obama held to the tradition and nominated the judge recommended by the senators, and that there is a difference between the Senate not being able to scrape up enough votes to confirm a nominee with a record of bigotry, to the one, and a U.S. Senator deciding to pull his blue slip because a judge happens to be gay. In the history of advice and consent, the loss of Boggs’ nomination is much more according to what we expect of the process. Which, in turn, is much different from whatever it is Republicans think they are doing.


Bendery, Jennifer. “It’s Official: Obama Won’t Renominate Michael Boggs”. The Huffington Post. 31 December 2014.

Alvarez, Lizette. “Rubio Withdraws Support for Gay Black Judge’s Nomination to the Federal Bench”. The New York Times. 23 September 2013.

A Long Note on Political Tradition in These United States

President Barack Obama, delivers his State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Charles Dharapak/AP)

By now of course we have become accustomed to the proposition that Republicans, once elected, would rather sit around. To some it actually seems a very sick idea; not only did the Speaker of the House demonstrate that Republicans conisder their job description to include going on vacation instead of actually working because, well, the most important part of the job is election and re-election, but in recent months the GOP has shown more and more willingness to simply admit that the inherent failure of government is more of a conservative goal than anything else.

Boehner and the band skipped out on gigs that might need Congressional attention, such as the Daa’ish question, the Ebola question, and the Immigration Reform question; despite their howls of rage regarding the latter, the fact of executive action occasionally arises when Congress refuses to pass a bill and the Speaker of the House calls on the President to use his executive authority. They could have skipped screeching themselves hoarse by simply sticking around and doing their jobs. Then again, the prior statement is controversial if only because it would appear that Congressional Republicans appear to believe their first, last, and only job is to win votes. Given their reluctance to undertake day-to-day Constitutional functions of Congress, such as advising and consenting to presidential appointments—or, as such, formally refusing the nomination—we ought not be surprised that the latest duty Republicans wish to shirk is sitting through an annual speech.

Nearly 16 years later, another Democratic president, also hated by his Republican attackers, is poised to deliver his penultimate State of the Union address. And like Pat Robertson, the idea of denying the president a SOTU invitation is once again on the right’s mind.

“Yes, there’s a risk to overreacting, but there’s a risk to underreacting as well,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “And I fear that’s the way the congressional leadership is leaning.”

Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. “If I were John Boehner,” he said, referring to the House speaker, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.'”

Lowry may not dictate GOP decision making the way Limbaugh and Fox News do, but it’s important to note that he isn’t the only one publicly pushing the idea.

Politico reported yesterday that congressional Republicans are weighing a variety of tactics to “address” their disgust over Obama’s immigration policy, and “GOP aides and lawmakers” are considering the idea of “refusing to invite the president to give his State of the Union address.”

Late last week, Breitbart News also ran a piece of its own on the subject: “Congress should indicate to President Obama that his presence is not welcome on Capitol Hill as long as his ‘executive amnesty’ remains in place. The gesture would, no doubt, be perceived as rude, but it is appropriate.”


Wait, wait, wait—sixteen years ago?

Yes. Like impeachment chatter and stonewalling, Republicans want to make refusing to hear the State of the Union Address part of their standard response to any Democratic president.