A Deal on the Table for Federal Judge Appointments?
Georgia lawyers say Chambliss, Isakson and state Democrats wait for OK from Obama
Georgia's Republican U.S. senators have cut a deal with state Democrats that, if approved by the White House, would fill six judgeships on Atlanta's federal appeals and district court benches, Georgia lawyers familiar with the nomination process have told the Daily Report.
The package deal would remove roadblocks thrown up by Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson that have held up the confirmation of Atlanta attorney Jill Pryor, a partner at Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, for the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor was nominated in February 2012.
The deal also recommends the elevation to the Eleventh Circuit of U.S. District Court Chief Judge Julie Carnes of the Northern District of Georgia. Carnes was appointed to her current post by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Carnes' move would create a fourth vacancy on the district court in Atlanta, where judges who left in 2009, 2010 and this year have yet to be replaced.
The new bargain includes the nomination of Leigh Martin May, a personal injury and product liability attorney at Butler Wooten & Fryhofer, for the Northern District bench. May was on a 2009 list of potential nominees that was sent to the White House by a committee appointed by members of Georgia's Democratic congressional delegation; May's law partner, James Butler, was a member of that committee. Chambliss and Isakson initially rejected May and others as nominees.
In return for their agreement not to block the nominations of Pryor and May, Chambliss and Isakson would name candidates to the other three district court vacancies. They include Troutman Sanders partner Mark Cohen, whose name the senators put forth first in 2010 for the Northern District bench and in 2011 for the Eleventh Circuit. Their remaining two picks are two state court judges appointed by Republican Governor Nathan Deal—DeKalb County State Court Judge Eleanor Ross and Judge Michael Boggs of the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Ross, a former Fulton County assistant district attorney and the only African-American among the prospective nominees, was appointed to the DeKalb state court bench by Deal in April 2011. Deal named Boggs—then a Waycross Circuit Superior Court judge—to the Georgia Court of Appeals in January 2012. Waycross, as well as Boggs' home in Pierce County, are in the Southern District of Georgia. If Boggs is nominated, it would be the second time the White House reached outside of the Northern District for a federal judicial candidate. At the suggestion of Georgia's senators, President Obama appointed then-Superior Court Judge Steve C. Jones of Athens, in the state's Middle District, to the Northern District bench in 2011.
Pryor, May, Cohen and Ross declined to comment for this story. Carnes and Boggs could not be reached.
A spokeswoman for Chambliss declined to comment. Isakson's staff could not be reached.
Ken Canfield, a partner at Doffermyre Shields Canfield & Knowles who last year became the liaison between state Democrats and the White House regarding Georgia's federal judicial nominees, said he could neither confirm nor deny that a deal had been reached. In July, he told a gathering at a program on the federal judiciary that after months of stalemate, discussions were taking place between Georgia's two senators and the White House to find acceptable nominees.