Civil Rights: Heading Down Southwick
|OCTOBER 22, 2007||by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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| CIVIL RIGHTS
Heading Down Southwick
This week, the Senate will likely vote on the nomination of Leslie Southwick to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit covers Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana, and has the “largest percentage of minority residents of any Federal circuit in America” — 44 percent. The court has a long history of enforcing civil rights, yet President Bush has nominated Southwick, who is opposed by civil rights groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, NAACP, Black Leadership Forum, Magnolia Bar, Human Rights Campaign, Congressional Black Caucus, National Urban League, National Partnership for Women and Families, and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Urge your senators to vote “no” on Southwick’s nomination here.
REGRESSIVE CIVIL RIGHTS RECORD: One of the most troubling decisions in Southwick’s record is Richmond v. Mississippi Department of Human Services. In 1998, Judge Southwick joined the Mississippi Court of Appeals’s ruling “that upheld the reinstatement, without any punishment whatsoever, of a white state employee who was fired for calling an African American co-worker a ‘good ole nigger.'” The decision, eventually overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court, effectively ratified a hearing officer’s opinion that the slur was only “somewhat derogatory” and “was in effect calling the individual a ‘teacher’s pet.'” In July, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) sharply criticized Southwick for joining the ruling, saying that he is out of the “mainstream” of American society: “The Southwick majority also affirmed the determination of the hearing officer who said the use of the term good old ‘N’ word…was in this context about as offensive as calling someone ‘a good old boy or Uncle Tom or chubby or fat or slim.’ Again, is that a mainstream view in America?” A Mississippi NAACP analysis of Southwick’s rulings in cases involving claims of race discrimination in jury selection also found that “[d]ozens of such cases reveal a pattern by which Southwick rejects claims that the prosecution was racially motivated in striking African-American jurors while upholding claims that the defense struck white jurors on the basis of their race.”
ANTI-GAY RECORD: In 2001, Southwick joined a ruling in S.B. v. L.W. upholding a chancellor’s decision “to take an eight-year-old girl away from her mother and award custody to the father, who had never married the mother, largely because the mother was living with another woman in a ‘lesbian home.’” Southwick was also the only judge in the majority to join a “gratuitously anti-gay concurrence” by Judge Mary Libby Payne that further denigrated “the practice of homosexuality,” referencing the state’s sodomy law that was eventually invalidated by the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas. It also cited Mississippi’s law “prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting children — even though this was not an adoption case, but rather a case regarding a biological mother’s right to retain custody of her child.”
ANTI-WORKERS RIGHTS RECORD: Last term, the Supreme Court — led by Bush’s nominees Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito — consistently sided with big business. Robin Conrad of the National Chamber Litigation Center, which handles Supreme Court cases for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called it “our best Supreme Court term ever.” Southwick would likely follow this tradition on the Fifth Circuit. According to an Alliance for Justice analysis, while on the court of appeals, Southwick “voted, in whole or in part, against the injured party and in favor of special interests, such as corporations or insurance companies, in 160 out of 180 published decisions involving state employment law and torts cases in which at least one judge dissented.” A Mississippi business group also looked at 638 cases during an eight-year period and rated Southwick “as the judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals most likely to rule against common, ordinary people, employees suing their employers.”
JUDICIAL IMBALANCE: Southwick is the third nominee with whom Bush has attempted to fill the slot on the Fifth Circuit. Both Charles Pickering and Michael Wallace, who also had sordid records on civil rights, withdrew their names from consideration after facing significant opposition. Even though Mississippi’s population is 37 percent African-American — the highest proportion of any U.S. state — Bush has yet to nominate “a single African American to serve on the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit or any of the district courts during his tenure in office.” According to the NAACP, Southwick’s nomination “continues a stark pattern of racial discrimination and racial exclusion in appointments by President Bush in a state and a region that continues to need integration.” Currently, just one out of 19 judges on the Fifth Circuit is African-American. It is unlikely that Southwick, if confirmed, would restore the court to its historic role of fighting for civil rights. In May, Durbin asked Southwick to “cite an instance in which he had ‘stepped out’ and taken an unpopular view on behalf of minorities.” Southwick could not cite any examples. Bush also recently nominated E. Duncan Getchell Jr. to the Fourth Circuit. Bush’s controversial decision to tap Getchell, a lawyer with no relevant experience, bypassed a list the two Virginia senators had sent to the White House of five conservatives who would have been speedily confirmed.
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