Senate Shouldn't Move on Judge in "N Word" Case

Controversial Fifth Circuit nominee and Mississippi lawyer Leslie Southwick had a confirmation hearing yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a hearing rushed onto the committee's schedule with only one week's notice. Why the hurry? Apparently, the Senate Republican leadership is threatening to grind the Senate to a halt unless Democrats meet their demands to confirm more judicial nominees, regardless of concerns about their records.

Well, there's a great deal to be concerned about when it comes to Leslie Southwick. As a judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, Southwick joined a disturbing ruling that upheld a hearing officer's decision to reinstate a white state employee who had been fired for calling an African American co-worker a "good ole nigger." The hearing officer likened this to calling the co-worker a "teacher's pet." Southwick also joined a gratuitously anti-gay opinion in a custody case, upholding a trial court's decision to take an eight-year-old girl away from her birth mother, in large part because the child was living in a "lesbian home."

Southwick was given every opportunity yesterday to disassociate himself from these rulings, and he spurned them all. In fact, when Senator Kennedy asked whether, in retrospect, he wished he'd written a separate opinion in the N word case, Southwick replied, "don't change horses in midstream." And when asked by Senator Durbin to identify one instance in his career when he'd stepped up to take an unpopular position on behalf of the voiceless and the powerless, Southwick could not give one single example.

Southwick's testimony was extremely troubling, and senators should not succumb to any pressure to move his nomination along.

For more background on Leslie Southwick and the two cases cited above, please read the letter that People For the American Way and the Human Rights Campaign sent to the judiciary committee.