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Black leaders angry over nominees for federal bench

12/27/2013, 6 a.m.

President Barack Obama’s nomination of just one African American – DeKalb State Court Judge Eleanor Ross – for the federal bench on Dec. 19 has angered many of his staunchest supporters from Georgia.

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John Lewis

Civil rights luminaries like Fifth District congressman Rep. John Lewis, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rev. C.T. Vivian were joined by Fourth District congressman Hank Johnson and David Scott, who represents the 13th congressional district and a long list of African-American civil rights groups and legal associations that are angry and disappointed the group of eight nominees included a lone African American.

Among the groups protesting the President’s nominees are the Rainbow Push Coalition, the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys, the Georgia Alliance of African American Attorneys, DeKalb Lawyers Association, the New Rock Legal Society, The Gate City Bar Associaiton, the Atlanta and Georgia Chapters of the NAACP, The Coalition for the People’s Agenda, and the SCLC.

Four of the nominees, Ross, Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael P. Boggs; attorney Mark Howard Cohen, a litigation partner in the Atlanta firm of Troutman Sanders LLP; and attorney Leigh Martin May, a partner at the Atlanta office of Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer LLP are from the Northern District of Georgia.

At a Dec. 22 press conference in Atlanta, the group said the president’s nominees lack diversity and Cohen argued in favor of Georgia’s Voter ID law, which aims to suppress black voting power; and that Boggs voted to keep the Confederate battle flag emblem on the state flag when he was a state representative.

Cohen and Boggs could not be reached for comment.

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Joseph Lowery

Lowery said somebody made a tragic mistake and that the president must undo it.

“We’ve come too far, marched too long, prayed too hard, wept too bitterly, bled too profusely and died too young to let anybody turn back the clock on our progress to a just society,” Lowery said. “It is insulting to come into Georgia in 2013 and bring a slate of nominees that is so unrepresentative of the state.”

Lowery who delivered the prayer at Obama’s first inauguration and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by the the President.

Johnson said there is no question that Georgia needs more diversity in the federal courts.

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Hank Johnson

“My constituents are disappointed that more hasn’t been done to bring greater diversity to our state’s federal bench,” he said. “More than 30 percent of Georgia residents are African-American. Yet of 18 District Court seats, only two are held by African-Americans, one of whom is preparing to retire. Surely Georgia can do better.”

Johnson said that his constituents should be hearing reports of a slate of candidates that includes not just one, but two or three or four nominees that will bring diversity to the courts. “In 2013, achieving a representative judiciary should be commonplace, not something to fight over or restrict,” he said.

Lewis said that Cohen fought for Georgia’s voter ID laws that seek to suppresses minority voting.

“Mr. President, the lives of the people of this state hang in the balance,” he said. “We question whether this is the kind of legacy you want to leave in the state of Georgia.”