This post has been updated with reaction since it originally ran on Jan. 20:
The nomination of Georgia’s first lifetime-appointed Latino federal judge was scuttled Wednesday after Republican Sen. David Perdue declined to back his appointment to the bench.
Perdue on Wednesday declined to provide a “blue slip” for Dax Lopez. Both home-state senators customarily must approve of a nominee before he or she goes to the full Judiciary Committee by sending in the slip.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson last week said Lopez deserved a hearing, but he has yet to ask the committee for one. But Perdue’s seat on the Judiciary Committee essentially gives him veto power over Isakson if he decides to act.
Perdue said in a statement he became “uncomfortable” with Lopez’s participation with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials after a review of his professional and judicial record.
“I am particularly concerned with his continued participation with this organization and his public comments after he became a state judge,” said Perdue. “Unfortunately, our personal meeting, while cordial and informative, did not fully alleviate my concerns.”
Lopez, a DeKalb County State Court judge, is a Jewish Republican who is a member of the conservative Federalist Society. He was appointed to the Georgia bench by Perdue’s cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue. And the counsel for Perdue’s Senate campaign, Josh Belinfante, served on the panel convened by the senators that sent Lopez’s name to the White House.
When he was tapped for the seat in July by President Barack Obama it seemed to many to be a foregone conclusion. State Republican Party counsel Anne Lewis, former state House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey and a slew of other prominent GOP attorneys signed a letter to the senators in support of Lopez in September.
But a groundswell of conservative blowback quickly slowed the momentum. The attacks center on his past membership on the board of GALEO, which supports a path to citizenship for people here illegally and fought tougher state laws on immigration.
Immigration is a hot-button issue for the GOP base now, with Donald Trump – who called for mass deportations and the magnificent Mexican border wall – leading the presidential primary in Georgia and nationally. Perdue, meanwhile, campaigned for his first-term win in 2014 opposing any sort of “amnesty” for immigrants here illegally.
“There would be a political price to pay for either conservative United States senator, one of them running for re-election, letting it go to the committee process with everything that’s been revealed about GALEO,” D.A. King, an activist who has led the charge against Lopez, said in December.
Other conservatives rallied to Lopez’s side in recent weeks. Among them was Erick Erickson, the conservative WSB Radio provocateur, who said he was the “most free-market” of all the judicial picks nationwide. He called Lopez the “best pick you could hope for from the president of the United States for Georgia.”
But it wasn’t enough to surmount concerns from the GOP’s right flank. And Perdue hinted some of his Republican colleagues would have had the same fears.
“I believe similar concerns would be raised by many of my colleagues, making Judge Lopez’s final confirmation unattainable,” he said.
Isakson, meanwhile, said he respected Perdue’s decision but is “disappointed that Judge Lopez won’t get a hearing.”
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who studies federal judicial appointments, said it’s unlikely the vacancy on the U.S. District Court bench in north Georgia will be filled until 2017 unless Perdue and Isakson act immediately.
“I can’t speak much for Lopez’s politics,” he said, “but if Erick Erickson vouches for him and says he is the best pick Georgia could get from Obama, then Perdue’s action seems odd.”
Here is Perdue’s full statement:
“Considering a nominee for lifetime appointment to our federal courts is one of the most significant responsibilities I have as a United States Senator and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I take this responsibility all the more seriously when considering nominees to federal courts in my home state of Georgia.
“After a thorough review of the professional and judicial record of DeKalb County Judge Dax Lopez, I have become uncomfortable with his longstanding participation in a controversial organization including his service on its board of directors. I am particularly concerned with his continued participation with this organization and his public comments after he became a state judge. Unfortunately, our personal meeting, while cordial and informative, did not fully alleviate my concerns. Furthermore, I believe similar concerns would be raised by many of my colleagues, making Judge Lopez’s final confirmation unattainable.
“I thank Judge Lopez for his service to the people of DeKalb County, but I am unable to support his nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia moving forward.”