Yesterday, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett met with five members of the Black Caucus on the issue of judicial nominees.
Jarrett then met with a larger group of Black Caucus members on a myriad of issues, including an upcoming new initiative focused on Black males, at their weekly meeting.
Though several members, such as Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Del. Norton, said the meeting with Jarrett went well, Rep. David Scott and other members of the Georgia delegation were not happy.
The President’s nomination of an attorney who was the lead counsel in Georgia’s voter ID case remains a concern.
“Do you think that George Bush would have been able to do this — or any white President — would have been able to do this? No,” Rep. Scott said intensely regarding that particular nominee.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) who was also in the five-member meeting with Jarrett, said, “We’re glad that the President has a commitment to diversity, and it would be natural that he have that commitment. But, there are some other issues that we’ve got to be concerned about. And some of our members from the South would lose their credibility with their constituents if they did not rise up and say, ‘This person goes beyond any kind of acceptable code.’”
A January 16 letter sent to President Obama and signed by 41 member of the Black Caucus urged diversity on federal nominees. It also expressed concerns that a deal might be made on judges in Alabama that was similar to the deal made in Georgia. The letter also called for a refrain from selecting white nominees until the percentage of Black nominees moves closer to the state of Alabama’s Black population, which is 26%.
A sentence from the letter, primarily authored by Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, read:
Given the history of judicial appointments in Alabama, we strongly encourage you to nominate qualified African Americans to the district court bench until the court’s racial composition reasonably reflects the state’s black population… In the 33 years … there have been 26 judicial appointments in the state and only one was African American.”
After the larger CBC meeting with Jarrett, Rep. Sewell would not talk on whether her concerns were addressed.
Four days before Christmas, President Obama nominated two judges from Georgia that several Black Caucus members were unhappy with. President Obama nominated both Judge Michael Boggs and Mark Cohen to be on the U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of Georgia. The selections were part of a deal with Georgia’s Republican Senators.
Cohen was the lead attorney arguing in support of Georgia’s voter ID law. Ironically, the voter ID law that Cohen championed is the same law the Obama Administration is fighting against in Texas. In 2001, Boggs voted in support of the Confederate battle flag as a member of the Georgia State legislature.
When Jarrett was asked by journalist Mike Lillis of The Hill whether President Obama might withdraw Cohen or Boggs’ names from consideration, Jarrett said “no.”
He also added that Georgia Democrats were not consulted by the White House on Cohen and Boggs.
“When you don’t have a member of your own party in the Senate then it is the House Democrats who should be consulted — that’s common courtesy. That was not done. This was done in secret. The nominations were released on Christmas Eve,” Scott said. “This is a terrible mistake. History will record it as such. And it breaks my heart that it’s a Black President,” the Georgia Democrat added.
Back in October 2013, the Atlanta NAACP, spoke out against Boggs’ even before he was nominated for the federal bench. In December, Reps. John Lewis, Hank Johnson and David Scott joined Rev. Joseph Lowery and C.T. Vivian at a press conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to protest the nominations of Boggs and Cohen.
Currently more Black judges have been confirmed under President Obama than any other President in history. So far, 19% of the federal judges confirmed have been Black, under President Clinton it was 16% and under President Bush it was 8%. President Obama has appointed more Black women to the federal court than any President with 17.
A handout with President Obama’s stats on diversity regarding his judicial nominees was given out to members during the meeting.
“This is a constant work in progress,” Jarrett told The Hill on Wednesday. “We’re very proud of our track record so far, but that doesn’t mean we’re not interested in always looking for new ways the bench can reflect the diversity of our country.”
Both Lewis and Scott have contacted Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy to testify against Boggs and Cohen.