Conservative voters and donor-class Republicans in Republican-run Georgia are battling over President Barack Obama’s choice for a federal judge who would oversee federal cases in the state.
The GOP’s conservative base is strongly opposed to Obama’s nomination of Dax Lopez, who is now a state court judge in metro-Atlanta, largely because he was a prominent political advocate against the enforcement of immigration-law. That’s a provocative choice during an election year that is dominated by talk of amnesty, immigration and cheap labor. Lopez served on the board of the largest illegal alien lobbying group in the state, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) from 2004 until a month after his nomination in July 2015.
Shocked pro-enforcement Georgia conservatives are watching closely to see if their Republican senators agree to let Lopez get a hearing in the judiciary committee. If he gets the hearing, he’ll likely be confirmed to the judgeship by a coalition of Democratic Senators and anti-enforcement GOP Senators. But either or both senators can quietly end consideration of the nominee through what is known as the traditional ‘blue-slip’ veto process.
On his January 7th drive-time Atlanta radio show, blogger and Fox News personality Erick Erickson stunned listeners with a somewhat shaky Lopez testimonial, the assurance that Lopez is the best nominee the Republicans can hope for and that a Federal Judge Dax Lopez would have “no role” on immigration cases. “No spin” said Erickson.
While acknowledging that fans would be upset with his endorsement, Erickson went on to assert that Lopez’s only confirmation problem with the base is merely that he “supports immigration reform.”
Erickson further assured his listeners that Lopez understands that “business needs to be able to do business” and that Lopez has “the support of the Chamber of Commerce.”
Lopez resigned from the corporate-funded GALEO a month after his nomination, when outraged voters learned of his long association with the pro-amnesty group – and after a steady barrage of phone calls to the offices of Georgia senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue protesting any further confirmation consideration.
Perdue was elected on a promise of toughness on immigration in 2014. Isakson faces re-election in November. He has been seen by many as wobbly on legalization and protecting American workers during his two terms in the senate by conservatives.
So far, Isakson has no primary opponent.
Lopez’s “we don’t want another Obama activist judge” critics point to a GALEO website boast of organizing protesters for a multi-bus trip from Atlanta to Washington D.C. to join in a 2010 national march against immigration enforcement.
During the decade-plus period Lopez was a member of the board of directors of GALEO, the group also actively lobbied against voter ID, English as Georgia’s official language and in the fall of 2014 boasted on its website of successfully lobbying a crime-ridden metro-Atlanta county to end cooperation with ICE on detainers for criminal aliens.
In 2011, GALEO allied with the ACLU and the SPLC in a federal lawsuit to overturn a state law from that year putting in place E-Verify requirements for private employers.
GALEO is well known for its repeated allegations of “racial profiling” against local police and Georgia sheriffs who use the federal 287(g) program to locate and report illegal aliens in their jails.
Once educated, the reaction by some Republican elected officials to Lopez’s nomination was swift and blunt.
The extensive list of elected Republican officials who have formally written to Senators Isakson and Perdue urging them to disqualify Dax Lopez for further consideration includes Republican county sheriffs, state senators and house members as well as county and city officials.
“It is with great concern that I am writing to you in opposition to President Obama’s effort to place Dax Lopez on U.S. District Court for the Northen District of Georgia… I have never seen an organization work harder against the interest of Georgians” wrote metro-Atlanta’s Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren in an August letter to both senators.
A letter of support was sent to the Georgia senators from a large group of Republican lawyers that includes Republican insider Josh Belinfante, who was part of the panel appointed to advise Perdue on a nominee and vetting process.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution “Political Insider” bloggers have begun regular coverage of the Lopez battle and in the Sunday hard copy this writer was attacked by an AJC opinion writer for educating the senate staffers on the GALEO-Lopez association.
Missing from the list of Republican officials advising against advancing Lopez to full committee are Georgia’s Attorney General Sam Olens and Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Along with two state legislators, it leaked out that they had attended a May 2015 GALEO fundraiser. Both officials are expected to compete for the Governor’s mansion in 2018.
Neither is Georgia’s current governor, Nathan Deal, among the opposition to a Federal Judge Dax Lopez.
As was reported here, Deal outraged Georgia conservatives with the appointment of another GALEO board member to the state board of corrections in 2013. The Republican-controlled state senate confirmed the appointment.
While rebuffed by Isakson’s office after a request for information, last fall, this writer met with the Chief Counsel to Senator David Perdue in Washington and by his invitation, with Perdue’s Chief of Staff in their Atlanta office. Both meetings ended with the confidence that Lopez had been convincingly exposed and would not see a confirmation hearing.
But recently the fight has taken a predictable turn towards the establishment.
In an address to the Cobb County Republican Party breakfast meeting Saturday, Isakson made it clear that Lopez may in fact be advanced to a committee hearing. “ I believe in the constitution…I am not going to rule out anything…” Isakson told the puzzled overflow crowd. AUDIO HERE
Insider word is that the Republican bosses desperately want to confirm Lopez — who was born in Puerto Rico — to showcase a 2016 “big tent” at any cost.
Georgia Senator David Perdue has made it clear that his decision on using the traditional “blue-slip process” to stop confirmation hearings on Lopez will likely be made as early as next week.
D.A. King is president of the Georgia-based Dustin Inman Society. @DAKDIS