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Friday, May 11, 2007

Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Southwick Nomination

Yesterday Judge Leslie Southwick of Mississippi had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to the Fifth Circuit. Southwick is the third person nominated for this vacancy by President Bush. The nomination of Judge Charles Pickering, who was hostile to women's rights and voting rights, and dismissed a cross burning as a "drunken prank," was blocked in the Senate; he was recess appointed to the seat, and finally his nomination was withdrawn. Then Michael Wallace, who was rated unanimously not qualified by the American Bar Association, was nominated for the spot, but his nomination, which was also controversial, was withdrawn at the end of the last Congress.

The president most recently nominated Judge Southwick for the vacancy. The Southwick nomination caused Derek Johnson, the president of the Mississippi NAACP, to say “we must conclude that the administration is determined to place a person hostile to civil rights in the Mississippi seat.”

In addition to the NAACP, a number of organizations, including Alliance for Justice, have expressed serious concerns about Judge Southwick’s nomination. Some of the opinions he wrote and joined while a judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals raise serious questions about his commitment to equal justice and to workers’ and consumers’ rights. In 180 split decisions involving workers and consumers, Judge Southwick ruled in favor of business interests and against individual plaintiffs 89% of the time.

The members of the Senate Judiciary Committee took our concerns seriously. Senators Whitehouse, Kennedy, Durbin, Feingold, Hatch and Coburn attended the hearing to ask Judge Southwick questions about his record. The senators focused primarily on two opinions which Judge Southwick joined, one which upheld the reinstatement of an employee who referred African American co-worker as a “good ole n*****,” and one which legitimized the use of a woman’s sexual orientation to deny her custody of her children. The senators also questioned Judge Southwick on his workers’ rights record.

Judge Southwick did little to allay the Senate’s and the public’s concerns. He continues to stand by opinions which show a high lack of sensitivity to racial minorities and LGBT Americans. We hope that the Senate continues to examine Judge Southwick’s record and exercise caution in moving forward with his nomination. (For more complete information about Judge Southwick, please read AFJ’s preliminary report and fact sheet).

1 comment:

Congressman Al Green said...

I urge the President to find a better candidate than Leslie Southwick, whose actions have shown him to be unworthy and insensitive. To allow this nomination to be confirmed would condone and legitimize his obvious disregard for issues that confront minority communities. Southwick made a decision in Richmond v. Mississippi Dept. of Human Services to uphold the reinstatement of a worker who referred to a co-worker as a “good-ole nigger” after a hearing officer found that calling the employee “a good ole nigger’ was the equivalent of calling the employee a “teacher’s pet." Southwick also has a proven pattern of approving peremptory challenges that exclude minorities from juries (striking persons from serving on a jury, usually without giving a reason). Those who serve on the bench must not only have a good judicial temperament and be well-versed in the law, they must also have a sound understanding of what constitutes invidious discrimination, as well as what constitutes a hostile work environment.

We have to assume that people may give us only one clue into their inner-most thinking. We cannot avoid the clues given to us by Southwick in his Richmond v. Mississippi Dept. of Human Services ruling and his rulings on race discrimination in jury selection. These rulings are indicative of Southwick’s willingness to condone overt bigotry and engage in covert discrimination. We cannot ignore this evidence before us-- it must be examined before it is too late and a lifetime appointment is made.

Cragg Hines of the Houston Chronicle was absolutely on target when he compared Southwick to Don Imus. Judges have a necessity to be impartial. Southwick and his Imus-like mentality must not be allowed to serve on the bench in the 5th Circuit, the federal circuit with the highest percentage of minorities. Though we may not have evidence on how he would view other minorities, the evidence we do have tells us this is not a person with an adequate understanding of minority issues. It is essential, knowing what we know now, for the President to rethink and withdraw the nomination of Leslie Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals-- Southwick is not the only person available. There are other candidates who are capable, competent, and qualified without this Imus-like mentality and they must be considered.