GOP senators to try again to get Bush judicial nominee on federal appeals court

Published 4:05 pm Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Republican senators are ready to try again to get one of President Bush’s judicial nominees from Mississippi onto the federal appeals court, but some Democrats seemed ready to put up a fight to keep Leslie Southwick off the bench.

“I am not convinced that he is the right nominee for this court at this time,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate was to take a test vote Wednesday on Southwick’s nomination. The law professor, judge and Justice Department employee was nominated by the White House to a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

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Southwick’s nomination has been controversial because some Democrats were concerned that his writings were racially insensitive. Several advocacy groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the AFL-CIO and the Congressional Black Caucus, have called for his defeat in the Senate.

Southwick has some supporters among Democrats, however, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “Judge Southwick is a qualified, sensitive and circumspect person,” said Feinstein, who said the nominee was neither insensitive or a racist.

Feinstein provided the winning vote for Southwick in the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, which approved his nomination on a 10-9 vote.

Republicans also are lined up solidly behind Southwick.

“If he was up for any other circuit, there would be no hesitancy,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. “This man ought to be judged on the basis of his own record and his own qualifications.”

Republicans and Democrats have been fighting over this seat on the Fifth Circuit for years. Southwick was nominated by Bush in January to fill the slot that has been vacant on the panel since the completion of Judge Charles W. Pickering’s recess appointment on Dec. 8, 2004.

Democrats successfully blocked Pickering’s nomination for a permanent seat on the court before that recess appointed. A second nominee for the seat, Michael Wallace, withdrew his nomination after saying Democrats would likely not confirm him.

Southwick, currently an adjunct professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, served on the Mississippi Court of Appeals from 1995 until 2006. He previously served as a deputy assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice.