Bush Judicial Nominee Faces 'Slow Walk' in Senate, Analyst Says

July 7, 2008 - 8:32 PM

(CNSNews.com) - In a replay of events that occurred often during the previous Congress, Democrats and several liberal groups are marshalling their forces in an attempt to derail a judicial nomination made by the Bush administration.

However, a conservative analyst told Cybercast News Service on Monday that Judge Leslie Southwick - and any other GOP nominees between now and the 2008 election - face a "slow walk" both in committees and if they reach the Senate floor.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on Thursday whether Southwick will serve on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, liberal groups have accused him of having a "very fixed, right-wing world view," while supporters said he "is a highly respected attorney with an extensive record of public service."

The June 7 vote became necessary when the 10 Democratic members of the committee - led by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) - said on May 25 that they needed more time to review Southwick's record, despite objections by the body's nine Republican members.

When President Bush nominated Southwick on Jan. 9, he said that the 57-year-old judge "is a highly respected attorney with an extensive record of public service as a judge and military officer."

Bush said that the native of Edinburg, Texas, had been a member of the Mississippi Court of Appeals from the court's creation in January 1995 through August 2004, when he began serving in Iraq as a member of the Mississippi National Guard's Brigade Combat Team.

From 1992 to 1997, Southwick was as a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps in the U.S. Army Reserves and is currently a visiting professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, where he has been an adjunct professor since 1998.

However, during the judge's confirmation hearing two weeks ago, Democratic senators were particularly interested in his rulings in two cases.

In one decision, Southwick voted to uphold a ruling giving custody of an eight-year-old girl to her father instead of her bisexual mother. He also joined other judges in a written decision that referred to the mother's "homosexual lifestyle."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said that phrase "is highly associated with a particular point of view that is not favorable to gay rights."

Southwick replied that he had simply followed Mississippi law, which in 2001 considered homosexuality a moral issue that could influence custody decisions.

"It was the stated policy ... regarding homosexuality," the judge testified. "The law is evolving as to the fundamental rights of gay relationships."

The other case that drew great scrutiny concerned the firing of a white social worker accused of using a racial slur against a co-worker. Southwick agreed with the majority decision that the social worker should be reinstated to her job and given back pay.

While the judge agreed that the racial slur used is offensive "and at least has the purpose of demeaning or belittling," he added that there was evidence to back up the Employee Appeals Board's argument that use of the term "had not sufficiently affected the workplace" to warrant her dismissal.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, has criticized Southwick's "very fixed, right-wing world view and intolerant racial views." She also expressed concern that confirming the judge would reverse efforts toward racial diversity, since only one of 15 judges in the New Orleans-based appeals court is black.

A number of homosexual and civil rights groups have also announced their opposition to Southwick's nomination.

"Judge Southwick is another in a line of Bush nominees intended to push an already-conservative court even further to the right," said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, in a press release.

Southwick is also being opposed by such groups as the Congressional Black Caucus, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Employment Lawyers Association, the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce and the Mississippi NAACP, Anon added.

Brian Darling, director for U.S. Senate relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service that he expects Southwick - and any other Bush nominee - to be put through a "slow walk" by Democrats, who hope to win the White House in 2008 and then "stack the bench with liberals."

"I think you're going to see, as a whole, the Democrats coming up with different reasons to slow up the process," Darling said.

Darling added that Southwick's record as a strict constructionist who abided by the letter of the law "is being held against him by liberals in the Senate Judiciary Committee and probably will be held against him if his nomination gets to the Senate floor."

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Southwick wasn't Bush's first choice to fill the seat in the Fifth Circuit, which hears appeals from the federal district courts of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

During Bush's first term in the White House, Democrats blasted U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering for what they called his "conservative views" and succeeded in filibustering his nomination.

Then in January 2004, Bush used a recess appointment to give Pickering a year in the post. However, that December, Pickering announced his retirement.

Bush then nominated Mississippi attorney Michael Wallace to fill the vacancy, but that nomination also stalled due to opposition from Senate Democrats, and Wallace asked the president not to re-nominate him when the 110th Congress began last January.

Also on Monday, Ralph Neas, president of the liberal group People for the American Way, praised Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for stating he would vote against Southwick, but asked: "Why is Senator Obama's voice the only senatorial voice we have heard?"

One other senatorial voice heard that day was Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) who has championed Southwick's candidacy. "I expect the committee will approve the nomination," Cochran said.

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