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U.S. Senators must make new 5th Circuit recommendation

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., says that within the next few weeks he expects a recommendation to be made to the president to fill the still-open post on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lott and fellow Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., must make at least one recommendation to President Bush, who will decide the nominee to go before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

“We won’t drag out the process very long,” Lott said.

The recent decision by Jackson attorney Michael Wallace to withdraw his means other potential nominees interviewed by the White House could be back in the running.

Two of the presidents nominations for the vacancy have failed to win confirmation, and now Bush must come up with a third as Democrats prepare to take over Congress.

Wallace told The Clarion-Ledger that there is no shortage of good lawyers in the state to fill such positions — pointing to Halil Suleyman Ozerden, a young attorney nominated by Bush to fill a vacancy on the federal court in Gulfport.

“I’ll tell you that there are so many good younger lawyers in Mississippi that not a lot of people know yet,” Wallace said.

Bush had nominated Wallace in February to fill the 5th Circuit seat vacated by Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering, a recess appointment who also had been up for a permanent spot on the bench. Democrats had accused both nominees of having a poor record on civil rights, allegations both denied.

The Bush administration also talked with former Mississippi Appeals Court Judge Leslie Southwick, someone Lott said they were impressed with. Southwick is up for a federal judge seat in Jackson and could possibly have to decide between the two.

Jim Herring, who heads the state Republican Party and is a former Mississippi Court of Appeals judge, was interviewed as well by the White House. Herring, who is 68, has said he believes his age does not make him a viable candidate.

Also considered were Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Kay Cobb and U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate, the only black federal judge in Mississippi.

Both Wallace and Pickering both had prior involvement with the GOP in their histories.

“I think that Sen. Cochran and Sen. Lott will be able to find some people who don’t have the political baggage that Judge Pickering and I do, but beyond that, I couldn’t say who it could be,” Wallace said.

He said Wingate, a Reagan appointee, is a first-rate trial judge and “if he’s interested in the job, I would think the two senators and the president would be interested in him.”

Wingate declined comment.

The New Orleans-based appeals court hears cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.