ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A coalition of congressmen and community activists from Georgia is demanding that President Obama withdraw a slate of judicial nominees. The group's leaders include prominent civil rights figures Democratic Representative John Lewis and the Reverend Joseph Lowery. They say the judicial nominees are not diverse enough and they argue that some of these nominees support political positions that, in their words, turn back the clock.
It is an unusual moment with President Obama's traditional allies publicly challenging the White House. NPR's Allison Keyes has the story.
JOSEPH LOWERY: Mr. President, hear us.
ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: At a press conference held at the Atlanta church where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his father were pastors, veteran civil rights leader Joseph Lowery stood with a mostly African-American coalition and criticized the six judges that have been nominated by the White House. The coalition says the community's input was ignored and it's angry that the candidates aren't more diverse.
LOWERY: The courts are too critical to our future and to our well being to leave them to people we don't know and people we do know.
KEYES: Veteran civil rights leader and Georgia Representative John Lewis also spoke. Lewis has specific issues with two of the nominees. Both Michael Boggs and Mark Howard Cohen are nominated to be U.S. District Judges for the northern district of Georgia.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LEWIS: Mr. Cohen was one of the attorneys who defended the controversial voter ID law in Georgia. Judge Boggs has demonstrated his support for traditions that the people of this state have rejected.
KEYES: Lewis says Boggs voted in favor of keeping the confederate-themed Georgia state flag. The coalition lamented that the slate of judges for both the northern district of Georgia and the 11th Circuit only includes one African-American. Lewis and others contend that the White House struck a deal with Republican Georgia Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss. The lawmakers allegedly cleared three of the district judges, including one who's black, as part of a deal to fill two seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
LEWIS: Justice cannot be found in some secret deals and negotiation that shut the people out.
KEYES: Isakson and Chambliss issued a joint statement saying, in part, the White House has been diligent and cooperative throughout this process, and this is a well qualified group of nominees. A White House aide says President Obama has appointed more African-American women to the federal court than any other president and that he has a higher percentage of African-American confirmed judges than his predecessors.
Back in Atlanta, Reverend Joseph Lowery stressed that the coalition is asking President Obama to undo a mistake that someone on his staff made.
LOWERY: We've not come to attack the president.
KEYES: But he warned the president that the consequences of these judicial nominations would remain after his term is over.
LOWERY: The judges that he seats on our courts will still be there. They will still be engaged in whatever mischief they can engage.
KEYES: The six judicial nominees still face the confirmation process. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.