Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Former Mississippi Judge Leslie H. Southwick is fully qualified and deserves confirmation to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, to which President Bush nominated him in January. Judge Southwick served in President George H.W. Bush’s Justice Department, worked in private practice for 12 years, was an adjunct law professor for 10 years and sat on the Mississippi Court of Appeals from 1995 to 2006. He entered the Army Reserve in the early 1990s, and chose to join the Mississippi National Guard in 2003, at the age of 53. He served in Iraq from August 2004 until January 2006. The American Bar Association, considered the gold standard by Democrats, unanimously voted him “well qualified,” its highest rating. Judge Southwick’s record and character are, in short, unimpeachable, which is why his critics eschewed an honest appraisal and instead tried to cast specious, unfounded aspersions on him.

This line of attack focuses on an opinion that Judge Southwick joined upholding an adjudication by the Mississippi Employee Appeals Board to reverse the firing of a state employee who used a racial slur to describe a colleague. The opinion explicitly condemned the slur — “unwarranted use by a state employee of any inflammatory or derogatory term when referring to or directly addressing a co-worker is an action that cannot be justified by any argument” — but found that its use was not a sufficient basis to fire an employee with years of otherwise satisfactory work. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with that conclusion, although Judge Southwick’s critics claim otherwise. From this case, those critics maliciously try to paint Judge Southwick as a racist.

The decision isn’t even objectionable, much less “highly disturbing,” as liberal interest groups have asserted. Opposition to Judge Southwick is more about politics than qualifications. Anyone willing to take a fair look at Judge Southwick’s record — like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose vote moved the Southwick nomination out of the Judiciary Committee, and the editorial board of The Washington Post — say he deserves a fair shake in the Senate.

The Senate should have approved Judge Southwick’s nomination before Memorial Day. Liberal interest groups have done their best to hold up his confirmation, but it’s time for the Senate to carry out its constitutional duty. Without any well-founded objection to Judge Southwick on which to base their opposition, Senate Democrats should either confirm the deserving judge or admit that they simply don’t want another conservative on the bench. The latter establishes a precedent that will come back to bite them sometime down the road. The Senate has every reason to confirm Judge Leslie Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and no reason not to.

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