Senate Democrats

Reid: Senate Should Oppose Southwick Nomination In Name Of Civil Justice, Equal Rights

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate to express his strong opposition to the nomination of Judge Leslie Southwick for the Fifth Circuit Court. 

Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Our Constitution outlines the shared responsibility between the Senate and the President to ensure that the Judiciary is staffed with men and women who possess outstanding legal skills, suitable temperament and high ethical standing.  As Majority Leader, I have worked hard to ensure that the Senate carries out its work with respect to judicial nominees fairly and promptly. 

“The judicial confirmation process is working well – and all Senators should be pleased to know that the judicial vacancy rate is currently at an all-time low.  So far this year alone, the Senate has confirmed 32 judicial nominees, including four court of appeals nominees – this on top of more than 250 others during the previous six years of the Bush Administration.  In contrast, I’m sure my Republican colleagues will recall that during the Clinton Administration, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to confirm almost 70 nominees – often without even the courtesy of a hearing.

“Judges with impeccable records such as Ronnie White and Richard Paez were maligned by Republicans merely for partisan and political gain.  Today, we face a judicial nomination that has attracted strong opposition.  But opposition to the nomination of Judge Leslie Southwick for the Fifth Circuit Court is neither partisan nor political.  It lies deep within the fundamental American commitment to civil justice and equal rights.

“In the past few weeks, our nation has seen the reoccurrence of racial issues that we had perhaps assumed, and certainly all hoped, were behind us.  Yet the recent events in Jena, Louisiana, and at the U.S. Coast Guard – where nooses were hung to intimidate, demean and belittle people of color – demonstrate that issues of race and intolerance are sorrowfully still present in our society.

“For many African-Americans, the federal courts have historically represented the first, last and often the only form of redress against racism and civil injustice.  For that reason, I believe we have no credible choice but to consider the nomination of Judge Southwick to the Fifth Circuit Court in the context of race and civil rights.

“President Bush is asking us to confirm Southwick for one of the highest judicial positions in the United States.  It is a lifetime appointment.  But for a court as important as the Fifth Circuit, Judge Southwick is the wrong choice.  His record on the Mississippi state court does not justify a promotion.  That is why I rise once again to express my strong opposition to this nomination, and urge my colleagues to join me in voting no.

“As a member of the Mississippi state appellate court, Judge Southwick joined decisions that demonstrate insensitivity to – and disinterest in – the cause of civil rights.  For example, in the Richmond case, he voted to uphold the reinstatement with back pay of a white state employee who had used a racial epithet about an African-American co-worker.  Judge Southwick says the decision was about technical legal issues, but the dissent in the case by his colleague Judge King explains what was at stake.  Judge King wrote, regarding the N-word, ‘There are some words, which by their nature and definition are so inherently offensive, that their use establishes the intent to offend.’

“It took the courageous action of judges on the Fifth Circuit to carry out the Supreme Court’s desegregation decisions and destroy the vestiges of the Jim Crow era.  Yet Judge Southwick’s record gives us no reason to hope that he will continue this tradition of delivering justice to the aggrieved.  That is why there’s no shortage of opposition to this nomination, first and foremost from our colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus.  They cite opposition by the Magnolia Bar, the Mississippi NAACP, and countless other organizations who stand for justice.  They have asked us to remember that their constituents are our constituents and they deserve representation on this issue.

“There is no reason why the President can’t find a nominee with a record of fairly representing all people.  If we reject Judge Southwick, the president would still have an opportunity to nominate a more suitable candidate.

“Judge Southwick’s record has been fully documented by my colleagues who have spoken before me.  His most grievous failure – a failure to give full weight to the vile meaning and history of the N-word – is deeply disturbing and cannot be overlooked.

“I urge all my colleagues to join me in voting no, so that we can find a candidate truly befitting this important and lifetime appointment, a candidate who will give the people of the Fifth Circuit the confidence they deserve that their claim to justice will be heard with the respect and equality that every American citizen deserves.”