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Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy

White House sits down with black lawmakers over judicial picks

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Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., left, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP file

Top White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, said to have the ear of the Obamas more than anyone else in Washington, met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday morning to attempt to assuage their concerns about diversity in judicial selections in Georgia and elsewhere.

U.S. Reps. John Lewis and David Scott, both Democrats from Atlanta, were not in the meeting with Jarrett, White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler and the CBC’s four-member working group on judges, but both attended a larger caucus meeting with Jarrett to talk about the Obama agenda.

In between the two get-togethers, Scott gave Jarrett a piece of his mind about Georgia’s nominees:

“She just stood there and she just listened and looked at me. And I said, ‘The hurting thing is that this is an African-American president, and that’s what’s hurting so many of the people.’”

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogBut the White House is giving no indication of backing off Georgia’s six-judge slate, negotiated over a multi-year period with Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, to the chagrin of Georgia’s House Democrats.

The White House communications team on Wednesday kept the spin on with a social media-friendly graphic touting the president’s commitment to judicial diversity by the numbers. It mentions Eleanor Ross, the only African-American pick in the Georgia gang.

The picks are still being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and no hearing has been scheduled to approve them.

[This post has been updated to reflect that Scott and Lewis were not in the smaller judicial nominees meeting.]

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On a somewhat similar topic, Secretary of State Brian Kemp has written a blistering letter to the state’s congressional delegation, laying out his objections to an attempt by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, to return Georgia to a system by which any changes to election laws must be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to be outdated and thus unconstitutional.

Wrote Kemp:

I have taken the consistent position that any federal laws regarding elections should be uniform throughout the United States….The proposed legislation ignores the tremendous progress that Georgia and the rest of the nation have made in the past 50 years and seeks to reinstate an outdated and obsolete formula that would cost Georgia taxpayers a significant amount in time, resources and money….

[T]hese “voting rights violations” are not limited to findings of discriminatory intent. They include any instance where the Department of Justice – under the old, unconstitutional formula – interposed an objection that was not later overturned by a court…The proposed bill also enshrines the controversial “disparate impact” standard, meaning that states or localities could find themselves under federal control even when there is no evidence of discriminatory intent.

Our research indicates that the “violations” that would place Georgia back under pre-clearance are not state laws that were found to be discriminatory. Rather, the “violations” refer almost exclusively to city or county redistricting plans or other minor changes….

I also understand that the proposed bill drastically lowers the standard for litigants seeking a preliminary injunction, allowing political interest groups to control whether our state can implement its own laws….

In an interview this morning with Martha Zoller and Tim Bryant on WGAU (1340AM) in Athens, Kemp said:

“If they want to make the act uniform for everybody, and use today’s numbers, and look at the elections of the past 10 years or something, I’m fine with Georgia being involved in this and the rest of the country. But to base a formula on the past, that was declared unconstitutional, and basically carve in four states out of the 50 is just ridiculous.”

In a sidebar on the costs of pre-clearance, Kemp said:

“You think of the election date bill that we changed just a couple of weeks ago [creating an early, May 20 primary].If we were still under this old process, we still would not have that bill pre-cleared, I would bet. “

***

The National Journal is out with its yearly rankings of lawmakers on an ideological axis, and the Georgia delegation results might surprise you: The Washington publication’s scorebook ranks Rep. Doug Collins as the most conservative Georgia U.S. House member (16th most conservative overall), followed closely by Jack Kingston at No. 17.

Where do the other Senate aspirants fall? Phil Gingrey comes it at No. 23 and Paul Broun looks like a moderate at No. 196.

Why? Broun falls off the map by voting against so many bills scored as conservative because he deems them not conservative enough – so he often sides with Democrats, just not for the same reason.

He’ll fare better in the scorecards from right-wing pressure groups that often go against House GOP leadership.

Still, you can expect to hear from Kingston about this score in the Senate campaign.

***

Given his connection to the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign and prominent evangelicals such as Franklin Graham and Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, what Buckhead publicist Mark DeMoss thinks about a more relaxed legal view of marijuana actually matters. From Religious News Service:

 “When 50 percent of our prison beds are occupied by nonviolent offenders, we have prison overcrowding problems and violent offenders serving shortened sentences, I have a problem with incarceration for possession of marijuana,” he said.

“None of that’s to say I favor free and rampant marijuana use. I don’t think it’s the most serious blight on America.”

***

So far, Dalton Mayor David Pennington wins the award among gubernatorial candidates for reacting quickest to the news.

He rattled off this dispatch shortly after the news broke that Gov. Nathan Deal and several top aides could be forced to testify in an upcoming whistleblower trial:

“Whether it is the snow disaster, the state employee healthcare failure, or the ethics commission in complete disarray – Georgians are constantly faced with Nathan Deal’s inability to lead.”

***

Our AJC colleague David Wickert reports that Tom Lowe, who has spent 40 years as a Fulton County commissioner, announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election:

Lowe, 85, told colleagues at Wednesday’s commission meeting that he wanted to spend more time with his family. He will continue to serve on the commission through the end of this year.

“We’ve had a good time with it. But I think the greatest thing in the world is to know when your time has come,” he said. “My time has come.”

***

State Rep. Matt Dollar, R-Cobb County, has introduced a bill to require local development authorities to make regular reports to county commissions and school boards on tax breaks given to spur economic development. From the Marietta Daily Journal:

Dollar is being challenged for his House seat in this year’s Republican primary race by Karen Hallacy, who sits on the board of the Development Authority of Cobb County.

The bill, House Bill 921, would require development authorities to provide quarterly reports, giving counties, municipalities and local school boards a way to stay informed on upcoming development projects that might get offered special tax deals.

However, just because county commissioners and school boards would know about those special tax deals under this bill, that  doesn’t mean you will. There’s a line in the bill that would prevent the general public from having access to the information.

***

Cobb County has also become a center of unrest when it comes to state school funding. The county’s GOP school board has demanded more of it from Gov. Nathan Deal.

Which explains this seven-page letter that state Rep. John Carson, R-Cobb County, has sent out to local PTAs – presumably on behalf of the governor.

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