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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted last week to advance Leslie Southwick’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to a full Senate vote. It was welcome news for President George W. Bush, who has tried unsuccessfully to fill the vacant seat since at least 2002. Bush’s first two picks were U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering Sr. and lawyer Michael Wallace, both of whom failed to gain traction in the Senate. The nomination of Southwick, a Mississippi appellate judge, has also been met with stiff opposition. Earlier this summer, Southwick’s nomination was taken off the committee’s agenda due to a lack of votes, but in a surprise turn of events, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) tipped the results in last week’s 10-9 decision in favor of the nominee. She was the only Democrat to vote in favor of Southwick. “It was a 50 percent surprise,” says Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, which backed the nomination. Levey says he thought either Feinstein or Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl would vote to move Southwick’s nomination. After the vote, Feinstein emphasized the American Bar Association’s unanimous evaluation of Southwick as “well-qualified” for the position and her personal impression of him as “qualified, circumspect.” People for the American Way is one of several organizations that has taken a hard line against Southwick because of what the group considers troublesome rulings in civil rights matters. As a state appellate judge, Southwick joined a majority opinion in a case that upheld the reinstatement of a white social worker who used a racial slur to refer to a black coworker. In another case, he joined the majority in deciding that a mother’s bisexuality could be factored into a child custody suit. People for the American Way released a statement, asserting: “It is incomprehensible that someone with such a disturbing legal record is being pushed toward confirmation. That’s not what Americans voted for when they gave Democrats a majority in the Senate.” As for Feinstein, she asserts, “I don’t believe he’s a racist. I don’t believe I’m a racist.”
Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected].

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