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Harry Reid In A Jam Over Controversial Obama Nominee Michael Boggs

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

"Unless I have a better explanation. I can't vote for him. This is a lifetime appointment. He's said some things and made some decisions I think are not very good," Reid told BuzzFeed. "Boggs is not somebody I’m going to vote for unless I have some explanations on why he did that deal with the rebel flag and things he's said about abortion."

As a Georgia state legislator from 2000 to 2004, Boggs voted to keep the state's old flag which included the Confederate battle flag. He voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and for various anti-abortion bills, one of which pro-choice activists say endangers doctors.

Progressive groups have waged an all-out fight to scuttle the nomination. The White House says he was part of a package deal with Georgia's Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson to bring up seven judicial nominees. The senators had used a tool known as the "blue slip" to block numerous judicial appointments and compel the White House to cut a deal.

Boggs has yet to be voted on by the Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing Tuesday on his nomination in which he was grilled by Democrats for his past votes as a legislator. Democrats have a 10-8 advantage on the committee, so if all Republicans vote for him, he'll need just three Democrats to win committee approval. If and when he is cleared, Reid must decide whether to bring him to the Senate floor. There he would need just 5 Democrats (if Republicans vote for him as a bloc) to be confirmed.

In other words Reid and most Democrats could vote against Boggs while still letting him be confirmed. The majority leader's office won't speculate on whether he'll bring Boggs to the floor until the Judiciary Committee votes on him. Ditching the nomination would scuttle the deal with Chambliss and Isakson, imperiling the other six nominees -- including two for the important 11th Circuit Court of Appeals -- and potentially leaving the seats vacant.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that while Obama believes Boggs is qualified, senators should vote their "conscience." He said it would be "grossly irresponsible" to leave the judgeships unfilled.

The reproductive rights group NARAL, which has led the opposition to Boggs, suggested Reid should do whatever it takes to make sure he isn't confirmed.

"Michael Boggs positions on choice, marriage equality and important civil rights issues are beyond troubling. In addition, his answers before the committee this week were vague at best and resulted in more questions than answers about his past," Ilyse Hogue, NARAL's president, told TPM. "We urge the Senate to use any and all measures to prevent this nominee from getting a lifetime appointment on the federal bench."

This article has been updated.

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.