President Bush has nominated Leslie Southwick to fill a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Bush previously tried to fill the seat with Charles Pickering and then Michael Wallace, both of whom faced significant opposition due to their disturbing legal records, especially on civil rights.
"Regrettably, Southwick also has a troubling record and appears to be cut from the same cloth as the others,” said Ralph G. Neas, President of People For the American Way. “First Pickering, then Wallace, and now Southwick – Bush has completely struck out on the Fifth Circuit.”
Southwick served as a judge on Mississippi’s intermediate appellate court – the Mississippi Court of Appeals – from 1995-2006. The court does not routinely consider the types of federal constitutional and civil rights matters that come before the Fifth Circuit, but Southwick’s judicial record is telling nonetheless. Two cases in particular serve to highlight Southwick’s lack of commitment to the social justice progress of the last fifty years.
In 1998, Southwick joined a ruling in an employment case that upheld the reinstatement, without any punishment whatsoever, of a white state employee who was fired for calling an African American co-worker a “good ole nigger.” The court’s decision effectively ratified a hearing officer’s opinion that the slur was only “somewhat derogatory” and “was in effect calling the individual a ‘teacher’s pet.’” The Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision.
In 2001, Southwick joined a ruling that upheld a chancellor’s decision to take an eight-year-old girl away from her mother and award custody to the father, who had never married the mother, largely because the mother was living with another woman in a “lesbian home.” Southwick went even further by joining a gratuitously anti-gay concurrence which extolled Mississippi’s right under “the principles of Federalism” to treat “homosexual persons” as second-class citizens. The concurrence suggested that sexual orientation is a choice and stated that an adult is not “relieved of the consequences of his or her choice” – e.g. losing custody of one’s child.
“Just like Pickering and Wallace before him, Southwick appears ready and willing to turn back the clock on fifty years of social justice progress in our nation,” said Neas. “Southwick had an opportunity at his recent hearing to demonstrate a commitment to Americans’ individual rights and freedoms, but he proved that he still doesn’t get it. The Senate Judiciary Committee must reject Southwick’s confirmation.”
Neas noted that not all of Southwick’s record has been provided to the Judiciary Committee, including records from his tenure in the Bush 41 Department of Justice and more than two year’s worth of unpublished decisions by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in cases on which he voted but did not write an opinion. “Given what we already know about Southwick, it would be irresponsible for Senators to proceed with his nomination,” said Neas.
- PFAW’s letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to Southwick’s confirmation
- Timothy McDonald's op-ed in The Washington Post: "Leslie Southwick Could Turn Back the Clock on Social Justice Progress"