The Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee thought the Caucasian judge Leslie Southwick was suitable to sit on a Mississippi’s district court, but he’d prefer a black man for the higher ranking 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) is opposing Southwick for the 5th Circuit post in favor of a black man, Honorable Henry Wingate, because Mississippi has never had a black judge on the circuit court. In a May committee hearing, Leahy said the Bush Administration “continues to renege on a reported commitment to appoint an African-American to the Mississippi federal bench.”
He added, “In six years, President Bush has nominated only 19 African-American judges to the federal bench, compared to 53 African-American judges appointed by President Clinton in his first six years in office.”
Southwick is Bush’s third nomination to fill the Mississippi vacancy. Democrats opposed the first two judges he nominated, Judge Charles Pickering and a lawyer, Mike Wallace, on charges of “racial insensitivity.” To temporarily fill the post amid Democratic objections, Pickering was given a one-year appointment, but now the seat is vacant.
Before he was appointed to fill the 5th Circuit vacancy in June 2006, Southwick was unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee for a district court judgeship. A September 20, 2006 Gannet news report about Southwick’s confirmation hearing for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi was titled “Judicial Candidate Enjoys Easy Going in Senate Hearing” because Republican senator Sam Brownback (Kans.) was the only one who even attended.
On September 26, the full Judiciary Committee passed on his nomination for a full Senate floor vote. Unfortunately for Southwick, no floor vote was scheduled before the end of the 109th Congress; his nomination was terminated and the Democrats regained control of Congress.
In the months that have passed, civil rights groups like the Alliance for Justice have combed through the more than 8,000 decisions Southwick has signed and the 850 opinions he authored in his career on the bench.
There are two opinions Southwick has signed, but did not author, that civil rights groups find objectionable. In one of the decisions, Southwick agreed that the use of a racial slur is not grounds for firing a state employee although slurs are “always offensive” and “inherently derogatory.” The other decision granted child custody to a heterosexual father instead of a child’s bisexual mother. Both opinions were available before the Judiciary Committee vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) dismissed the importance of those cases on the floor Thursday.