(CNSNews.com) - Drama came to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) broke ranks with her Democratic colleagues to vote in favor of sending the nomination of Judge Leslie Southwick, a nominee to the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, to the Senate floor for confirmation.
As Cybercast News Service has previously reported, Southwick faced opposition from many liberal interest groups, including People for the American Way, the Alliance for Justice, the Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP and the AFL-CIO.
Controversy over Southwick stemmed largely from two opinions in cases in which he joined but did not author: One concerned the use of a racial slur in a workplace, and the second focused on the parental rights of homosexuals.
A ?Sense of the Senate? resolution pushed by ranking Republicans this week called for a vote on Southwick?s nomination.
In her statement before the committee, Sen. Feinstein said: "I don't believe he's a racist...I believe he's a good person. ... Judicial nominees are not just a collection of prior writings or prior judicial opinions. ... My hope is that we can put these days behind us, and that we can give people a fair hearing, and that we can move them on."
Democratic senators and liberal activists quickly denounced the turn of events and expressed their desire to either halt Southwick's advancement or vote against his nomination.
"I will schedule a debate and vote [on the Southwick nomination] on the Senate floor. However, I remain strongly opposed to this nomination," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-N.V.) in a press release.
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, opposes moving the nomination to the floor for a vote. "I am not convinced that he is the right nominee for this vacancy at this time," said Leahy.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said "the committee's favorable vote for Leslie Southwick's confirmation is a slap in the face to African-Americans and all people of good will."
Leahy urged that President Bush nominate an African-American to the Fifth Circuit because of the racism allegations associated with Southwick. "With an ever-growing number of outstanding African-American lawyers in Mississippi, the state with the highest percentage of African Americans in the country, it is not as if there is a dearth of qualified candidates," said Leahy.
Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, expressed disappointment with Republicans on the Judiciary Committee and with Feinstein. "It is incomprehensible that someone with such a disturbing legal record is being pushed toward confirmation," said Neas. "That's not what Americans voted for when they gave Democrats a majority in the Senate."
Conservatives, however, were quick to hail Feinstein's vote.
Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, called the committee vote "an act of decency."
Wendy Long, with the Judicial Confirmation Network, said "Feinstein's vote has broken the strong arm of the liberal left on this one."
Long added that Feinstein's support of Southwick "is a resounding repudiation of both the misrepresentations about Southwick personally, and of the Democrat tactics of obstructing fair and impartial judges."
Long further noted that "there are still nine Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who will act as pawns of the far left and try to block a nomination with absolutely no basis to do so. It will be interesting to see how many Democrats on the floor will vote, like those nine Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, against Southwick based on zero evidence against him."
Southwick's nomination is to a seat previously held by Judge Charles Pickering, which has been declared an " emergency vacancy." Pickering faced opposition from Senate Democrats and was recess-appointed by President Bush in 2004. He withheld his name for consideration of confirmation and retired from the bench when his term expired in December 2004.
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