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as a "drunken prank," was blocked in the Senate; he was recess appointed to the seat, and finally his nomination was withdrawn.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by the American Bar Association, was nominated for the spot, but his nomination, which was also controversial, was withdrawn at the end of the last Congress.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).