The Congressional Black Caucus would like to see more diversity on the federal bench.
A not-yet-healed wound was reopened this week when White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett traveled to Capitol Hill for a meeting with some members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss among other things President Obama's judicial picks.
Rep. David Scott and Georgia congressmen are still fuming over his choices for their state's northern district courts. One voted to keep the Confederate emblem on the Georgia state flag; the other served as lead counsel in defense of a controversial voter ID law. The only African-American on the slate is a Republican.
"If George W. Bush had put forward these kinds of nominations, or any white president, Democrat or Republican, we'd be ringed around the White House right now protesting it," Scott told BET.com. "That's what makes this hurt so deeply. It's an African-American president who is doing these hurtful things."
Exacerbating the problem is the tradition that allows U.S. senators to approve or disapprove of nominees made to the bench in their home states. Because Georgia's senators are both Republican, and Obama is a Democrat, many lawmakers believe the president should also have allowed House members to also have a say.
Scott is the member of his delegation who has been most vocal on the subject, but another member of the delegation, speaking on background, told BET.com that he also believes they're being "disrespected."
The Congressional Black Caucus is hoping to prevent a similar scenario with the slate of judicial nominees for Alabama, where just three African-Americans have been appointed to serve in the state's district courts since they were first established in 1824.
In a letter to the president dated Jan. 16, signed by 41 members, the group commended him on his "commitment to diversity on the federal judiciary," but also noted that there "still remains an inexcusable and unjustifiable lack of racial diversity that must be addressed."
"In light of the controversy over the recent Georgia slate of six nominations, it is our hope that we avoid a similar fate in Alabama," they added.
But their concern, typically the very sort of thing most CBC members prefer to keep on the down low, is now at the center of another controversy. A headline in the political newspaper The Hill following Jarrett's visit citing an "escalating feud" between Black lawmakers and the president has placed their differences, both real and perceived, under very public scrutiny.
CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge quickly fired off a release assailing the Hill report as "dishonest and misleading," adding that the meeting with Jarrett "assuaged our concerns." And when the reporter approached her later for comment, Fudge, whose face flashed with anger, vowed to never speak to the publication again.
Scott's concerns, however, which he said got no more than a "look" from Jarrett, are far from being assuaged. He is boiling mad and doesn't care who knows it.
"I know that a lot of people would like him to be a little more passive, but if I felt that strongly about judicial appointments in my district I think people would have to tie me up and torture me to stop me from expressing my concerns," former CBC chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver told BET.com, adding that Scott's issues with the nominees should be heard and respected because he will be impacted by them.
Scott, who feels his voice is his only weapon in this fight, has no plans of backing down and is urging any and everybody who opposes the nominations to register their views with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Sometimes you want to try to save a president from making these kinds of mistakes. This is wrong and there's no other way to spin," he said. "The president will be gone in three years; these people will be [on the bench] for life and will make decisions [that will impact] generations. There's no white president who would have done this — all hell would be breaking loose. It's just wrong as wrong can be."
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(Photo: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty Images)