What do Leslie Southwick and Timothy Griffin have in common? The same hiring committee. That's right, the same people who are behind selecting US attorneys are responsible for vetting nominees to the federal bench. And now they've chosen Leslie Southwick for a seat on the Fifth Circuit.
Leslie Southwick was a Mississippi Court of Appeals judge with a long record of hostility to workers and consumers. In fact, in 180 divided tort and employment cases, Judge Southwick voted against employees, consumers and other victims 89% of the time. When asked by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) in his hearing if he could think of one instance in nearly 7,000 opinions where he made an unpopular decision in favor of the powerless, the poor, minorities or the dispossessed, Judge Southwick responded no. And then there are his troubling rulings on civil and equal rights (These have already been discussed in detail -- for more on the "good ole n*****" and "homosexuality as grounds for losing custody" cases, see here and here).
Readers are probably familiar with the seat to which Judge Southwick is nominated. It is one designated by tradition for Mississippeans and President Bush previously put up Charles Pickering and Michael Wallace, two nominees whose records were an affront to equal justice. As Rep. Al Green (D-TX) noted, "Pickering was an insult. Wallace was an injury. Southwick is adding insult to injury."
That's because Judge Southwick's record indicates he is just another in a long line of Bush nominees hostile to individual rights and hard-won freedoms, a nominee chosen for political reasons designed to push the federal courts far to the right. This is the other side of the US Attorneys scandal coin. Just as the Bush administration sought to politicize the Department of Justice through its appointment of US attorneys, so too is it attempting to engineer a partisan revamp of the courts through its selection of lifetime appointees.
This is what is really so troubling. The Senate, rightly so, has not been afraid to draw attention to the US attorneys scandal. Senators have held numerous hearings -- in fact there is another today -- and many have outspokenly called for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. This same furor has not been manifested over judicial nominees. And unlike US attorneys, who are appointed for four years, Leslie Southwick and other federal judicial nominees are appointed for life. Decades after Bush's prosecutors are gone, his judicial appointees will still be making decisions that affect the lives of all Americans. So why isn't the Senate Judiciary Committee applying the same level of scrutiny to Judge Southwick and other controversial nominees that they are to the US attorneys? Only one senator has expressed opposition to Judge Southwick: Barack Obama (D-IL).
Is this the precedent Senate Democrats want to set for the first controversial judicial nomination since they've taken control? Capitulating to the Bush administration's effort to pack the federal bench? Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) put it well when announcing the Congressional Black Caucus's opposition to the Southwick nomination: "Bush has all but ruined the federal courts. Democrats must not help him do more of the same as he leaves office."
The test for the Democrats comes this Thursday -- the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the nomination of Leslie Southwick. These senators must stand up for justice by voting Judge Southwick's nomination down.
Take Action: Tell Judiciary Committee Senators to Vote No on Leslie Southwick
Learn more about Southwick's Record here, here and here.