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Lame duck Senate moving on Georgia judges

Atlanta attorney Leigh Martin May is set to be confirmed Thursday to the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, as the Senate continues to move – slowly but surely – on all but one of Georgia’s long-awaited judicial nominees.

May cleared a procedural vote Wednesday, one of the Senate’s first acts as it returned for its lame duck session. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put three more Georgia nominations on the agenda Wednesday, meaning their votes are expected soon.

“She’s an unbelievably exciting, unbelievably knowledgeable, unbelievably accomplished individual,” Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said of May in a floor speech before the vote.

May is a partner at Butler, Wooten, Cheeley & Peak, specializing in complex civil litigation. She has represented injured people suing automakers and whistle-blowers taking on big banks. In addition, she has been active in Democratic politics.

It has been nearly a year since the White House announced a package deal on nominees with Isakson and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, as some vacancies have languished for years and have been labeled “judicial emergencies” by the U.S. Courts.

Julie Carnes and Jill Pryor were confirmed in recent months to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. In addition to May, the Senate is set to act soon on Atlanta attorney Mark Cohen and DeKalb County State Court Judge Eleanor Ross for the U.S. District Court in Atlanta; and assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Joyce Abrams to sit on the bench in Albany.

Ross and Abrams would be the first African-American female U.S. District Court judges in Georgia history.

The most controversial member of the group was Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs, whose record as a state legislator on abortion, gay rights and the old state flag came under fire from Democrats and liberal groups. Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., blocked Boggs from getting a committee vote and urged the White House to withdraw his nomination, but the White House has stood by its nominee.

The judicial nomination process has been fraught with animosity since Senate Democrats changed the rules to allow most nominees to overcome a procedural hurdle known as cloture with 51 votes, instead of the usual 60. Republicans retaliated to that “nuclear option” by slowing the process down and forcing cloture votes on even noncontroversial nominees.

Glenn Sugameli, who closely tracks judicial nominations for the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, said the need for Reid to file cloture motions on the Georgia judges is “absurd.”

He called the actions “knee-jerk obstruction for obstruction’s sake, when it hurts the people and businesses who need federal courts to decide cases, rather than (President Barack) Obama or Democratic senators.”

With Boggs’ nomination blocked, at least one Northern District of Georgia judgeship will remain open next year. The question is whether Obama will renominate Boggs without his nomination being included as part of a package deal.

“My hope is that it’s done,” said U.S. Rep. David Scott, an Atlanta Democrat who has been one of Boggs’ most vocal opponents. “I don’t see any way that the president would want to resurrect something (this) divisive.”

Senator-elect David Perdue, a Republican who will take Chambliss’ place next year, said Monday that he expects to have some vacancies to fill soon. By Senate custom, home-state senators can approve or block White House judicial nominees in their states.

“I just think that the person there needs to be above their personal interests, their activist personal positions,” Perdue said when asked about his philosophy for judges. “This is about interpreting the Constitution.”

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