By ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A civil rights icon who is now an influential member of the House became the latest prominent Democrat on Monday to oppose one of President Barack Obama’s picks to become a federal judge.
A strongly worded three-paragraph statement by Rep. John Lewis dealt yet another embarrassing blow to Obama and his selection of Michael Boggs to become a federal district judge in Lewis’ home state of Georgia. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he opposed Boggs and several Democratic senators have also criticized the pick, leaving the nomination in doubt.
As a Georgia state legislator a decade ago, Boggs opposed efforts to remove the Confederate battle insignia from the state flag and favored posting online information about doctors who provide abortions. He has also been a foe of same-sex marriage.
“I have fought long and hard and even put my life on the line for the cause of equal rights and social justice,” said Lewis.
He added, “I have worked tirelessly to rid Georgia, the South, and this nation from the stain of racial discrimination in any form, including the display of Confederate emblems in the Georgia state flag. I am not about to change that position now.”
In an appearance last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Boggs said he was representing his constituents’ views. Boggs, a state judge for the past 10 years, expressed regret for his legislative vote on abortion doctors and said he was glad the Confederate emblem was eventually removed from the Georgia flag. He was unclear whether his view on same-sex marriage has changed.
“His record is in direct opposition to everything I have stood for during my career,” said Lewis.
In the 1960’s, Lewis was involved in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and Freedom Rides at segregated bus terminals in the South. The biography on his House website says he was beaten and arrested more than 40 times.
Lewis played high profile roles in many of the civil rights movement’s watershed moments. This included being a speaker at the 1963 March on Washington and a participant in the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march across a bridge in Selma, Alabama, in which state troopers attacked the demonstrators.
Now 74, Lewis is one of the House’s most respected members on the subject of civil rights.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to vote on Boggs and is not expected to do so until at least June. It is unclear whether his nomination will survive.
“I do not have a vote in the Senate, but if I did I would vote against the confirmation of Michael Boggs,” Lewis said.
Obama nominated Boggs as part of a deal with Georgia’s two Republican senators to fill seven vacancies in that state’s federal bench.
On “CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley” on Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Judiciary committee, said she had spoken to Lewis about Boggs and the congressman “felt that this was a good ticket.”
In his statement Monday, Lewis said he has never indicated support for Boggs but was willing to let the Senate’s nomination process run its course. Feinstein spokesman Tom Mentzer said Monday that the senator had no new comment.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the White House would not comment on Lewis. Last week it defended Boggs’ nomination and his record as a state judge.