Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Last week, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a confirmation vote on Leslie Southwick when it became clear that the committee would reject his nomination. This is at least the third delay since President George W. Bush nominated Southwick last January to the Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, a court just under the U.S. Supreme Court. The Fifth Circuit covers parts of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
The holdup is that Southwick, who served on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, has a miserable history of decisions on civil rights and work discrimination cases. According to an Alliance for Justice report, Southwick has an 89 percent record of voting against workers and consumers in divided decisions.
In a 1998 case, Southwick joined a ruling re-instating, without punishment, a white state employee who had been fired for calling an African American co-worker a "good old n*gger." That case was overturned on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which is not known for its liberal activism.
The Fifth Circuit presides over the largest per capita African American populations in the nationMississippi has the highest African American population by percentage of any state, with more than 1 million citizens, while Louisiana is second, with 1.5 million African Americans before Hurricane Katrina.
Yet, only one of 21 positions on the Fifth Circuit is filled by an African American. Mississippi's population is 37 percent black; Louisiana's population is 33 percent black. Four positions are held by women, none of whom are black.
President Bush has made seven nominations to the Fifth Circuit, and none were African American. In the last 22 years, all 16 people nominated to the federal bench in Mississippi were white, and 14 were male.
Judge Henry Wingate, who presided over the trial of James Ford Seale, remains the only person of color on the federal bench in Mississippi, and he serves on a lower court. Wingate was appointed more than two decades ago, in 1985.
This does not mean that we must insist upon an African American nominee, though the next president must make the Fifth Circuit more representative. It certainly does mean that a nominee's views on civil rights are paramount. Opponents of Southwick's nomination are not judging him on a "personal" basis, as The Clarion-Ledger has written, as if scrutinizing a nominee's record is somehow inappropriate and "personal."
It is our duty to ensure that judicial nominees will rule fairly for all citizens. There is nothing personal about rejecting a nominee whose rulings demonstrate hostility to civil-rights law, which is especially important in the Fifth Circuit.
The Senate has delayed long enough. It is time to reject Leslie Southwick and demand a candidate worthy of the Fifth Circuit.
It's scary how what is going on in Jackson government reflects the actions of the federal government.
I'm referring to the confirmation vote.