Washington (CNN) – Senate Democrats pushed back en masse against one of President Barack Obama’s federal court nominees on Wednesday, questioning Michael Boggs of Georgia about his past statements and beliefs about abortion, gay marriage and the Confederate flag.
Boggs is now a Georgia Court of Appeals judge, but his Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing focused on votes and statements from when he served as a conservative Democrat in the George state legislature, from 2000-2004.
“You supported legislation that required doctors to report online (if they conduct abortions) and the number of abortions they conduct,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, recounted to Boggs at his confirmation hearing. “Was that a mistake?”
Boggs replied yes, that he now sees the vote was a mistake and that he didn’t consider the threats made to doctors who perform abortions.
“Looking back,” Boggs replied, “I regret that vote and I fully recognize the public safety risk.”
Democrats were unconvinced and pressed him again and again on whether he believes key U.S. Supreme Court decisions upholding a women’s abortion and contraceptive rights are “stare decisis” or settled law. Boggs answered that he did.
The deeply-held Democratic doubts about a Democratic nominee were only the most visible part of the plotline. Boggs was part of a seven-nominee agreement in which the White House and Republicans agreed to a package deal for a mix of more liberal and conservative judicial candidates.
Liberal interest groups cried foul over the deal, with NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Organization for Women and the Human Rights Campaign stridently opposing Boggs nomination.
In the hearing, he tried to draw a hard line between his opinions as a state lawmaker and his rulings as a judge. Several Democrats asked whether he still opposes same-sex marriage.
“My position on (same-sex marriage), it may or may not have changed as many peoples’ have,” he said, notably adding, “My position has never had any import on how I’d decide cases.”
Boggs gave the example of a lesbian couple who wanted to adopt a child but who would not be seen by a senior judge. He said he followed the law and approved the adoption.
Adding to the deep discomfort of Democrats, while serving in the Georgia state legislature, Boggs voted twice to keep a Confederate emblem on the Georgia state flag.
“(That symbol) really means so much more than the material of that flag,” said Feinstein.
“I was offended by the flag,” Boggs told the committee, saying that as a legislator he felt he should vote for the will of his constituents even if it went against his own convictions. “Looking back on that vote and the time I cast that vote, it was a very difficult decision to decide whether to vote my conscience. Terribly agonizing.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, tried to bolster support for Boggs, pointing out that he has been recognized for his work on criminal justice reform, particularly for helping low-income communities.
But that support and Boggs’ straight-line impartial-judge answers did not convince Democrats who have heard similar commitments in the past and seen nominees do what they believe is a 180-degree turn once they land on the federal bench.
“This committee, we have been acutely disappointed by the fact that people pledge themselves to (upholding established decisions) and then they leave here and take the oath as a judge and you just watch and you say ‘where has it all gone’?,” Feinstein complained. “For my vote, I have to have certainty and I don’t know quite how to get it in reviewing this record.”
"I think we'll have to assess the sincerity and significance of his disavowals of many of his actions and stands in the past," Blumenthal told CNN after the hearing, "Certainly these issues are still relevant to the issue of whether he should be confirmed."
The Democrats on the committee are not alone.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, when asked whether he would bring Boggs’ nomination to the floor should it pass out of committee, said “we’ll see.”
CNN’s Paul Courson contributed to this story.