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Obama opposes Southwick judicial nomination.

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WASHINGTON--The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday votes on a very controversial judicial nominee, Leslie Southwick, a former Mississippi state court appeals judge. According to the Alliance for Justice, Southwick is " hostile to worker, consumer and civil rights.''

President Bush has had to drop his two previous selections for this slot because of Senate opposition.

Interesting, the Democrats on the committee (including White House contender Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have been slow to show their hand. There are a coalition of groups, including civil rights organizations and organized labor objecting to the Southwick nomination. Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is not on the committee but is on record as opposing Southwick if the nomination gets to the Senate floor.

click below for memos from the Alliance for Justice....

from the Alliance for Justice.................

Judge Leslie Southwick, a former Mississippi Court of Appeals judge, is President Bush’s latest nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. President Bush previously named Charles Pickering and Michael Wallace to the seat. Their nominations were eventually withdrawn in the face of strong opposition to their troubling records. Now, a close look at Judge Southwick’s record another attempt to confirm a judge hostile to worker, consumer and civil rights.

 Judge Southwick ruled that Bonnie Richmond, a white social worker for the Mississippi Department of Human Services who was fired when she referred to an African-American co-
worker as a “good ole n*****”, should get her job back. In Richmond v. Mississippi Dep’t. of
Human Services, Judge Southwick joined a decision that found that the slur, was “not
motivated out of racial hatred or racial animosity directed toward a particular co-worker or
toward blacks in general” and that its use was an insufficient ground for termination. The
Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision.

 Judge Southwick went out of his way to join a concurring opinion contending that sexual
orientation was a perfectly appropriate basis on which to make custody determinations. The
opinion in S.B. v. L.W. stated that a mother’s “choice” to participate in a homosexual relationship
is “of significant consequence…in that her rights to custody of her child may be significantly

 Judge Southwick has an 89% record of voting against workers and consumers in divided published opinions. His repeated votes in favor of corporations and insurance companies led to his receiving the highest rating of any judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals from a business
advocacy group.

 After the Goodes’ granddaughter was killed when their propane hot water heater exploded, Judge Southwick joined an 8-2 dissent in Goode v. Synergy Corporation opposed to granting the Goodes a new trial against the manufacturer of the heater when new evidence pointing to the company’s guilt was discovered.

 Currently, numerous groups are opposing Southwick’s nomination including Congressional Black Caucus, NAACP, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Magnolia Bar Association, Mississippi NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, AFL-CIO, SEIU, Society of American Law Teachers, Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Alliance for Justice and People for the American Way among others.

For more information on Leslie Southwick, including additional fact sheets and reports, please visit

TO: Editorial Editors, Editorial Writers, Editors and Correspondents

FR: Nan Aron, President, Alliance for Justice

DT: June 4, 2007

RE: Nomination of Leslie Southwick to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit


During more than a decade on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, Judge Leslie Southwick compiled a lengthy record of voting against consumers, workers and racial minorities. On January 9, 2007, President Bush nominated Judge Southwick to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit; his hearing took place May 10, 2007 and the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination on Thursday, June 7, 2007.

Judge Southwick spent most of his career in private practice defending oil and gas companies. He also worked as an adjunct professor at Mississippi College School of Law, where his courses included Oil & Gas Law, between 1985 and 1989, and again from 1998 until the present. Judge Southwick was a member of the Federalist Society from 1990 to 1998. In 1994, Judge Southwick was elected one of the first ten judges on the newly created Mississippi Court of Appeals, where he sat until he declined to seek reelection in 2006.

One exchange during Judge Southwick’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is illustrative of his record as a whole. Senator Durbin (D-IL) pointedly asked Judge Southwick if he could think of one time in his career, including the more than 7000 opinions that he wrote or joined, in which he had made an unpopular decision in favor of the powerless, the poor, minorities or the dispossessed. Judge Southwick responded “no.” [1]

Mounting Opposition

The following organizations and individuals have opposed Judge Southwick’s nomination to the Fifth Circuit: Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the Congressional Black Caucus, the Magnolia Bar Association, the Mississippi NAACP, , the AFL-CIO, Alliance for Justice, Americans for Democratic Action, the Human Rights Campaign, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Employment Lawyers Association, the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, NOW, and People for the American Way.

In announcing the opposition of the Congressional Black Caucus to the nomination of Leslie Southwick, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) declared “A vote for Southwick would make a bad Fifth Circuit problem worse at the hands of a Democratic Senate, and at the end of an administration. Bush has all but ruined the federal courts. Democrats must not help him do more of the same as he leaves office.”

A Consistent Vote Against Workers and Consumers

Judge Southwick voted against workers, consumers and other victims 89 percent of the time in 180 published state employment law and torts cases in which at least one judge dissented. This record led a business advocacy group to rank Leslie Southwick first of all the judges on the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

Goode v. Synergy Corporation. [2] After the Goodes’ granddaughter was killed when their propane hot water heater exploded, Judge Southwick joined an 8-2 dissent opposed to granting them a new trial against the manufacturer of the heater when new evidence pointing to the company’s guilt was discovered.

Cannon v. Mid-South X-Ray Co. [3] In another 8-2 dissent, Judge Southwick argued that a statute of limitations barred Annie Cannon from seeking compensation from her employer and a chemical company for illnesses that included severe headaches, seizures and burning sensations, which were related to her exposure to chemicals as darkroom technician. Judge Southwick’s harsh interpretation echoes the opinion authored by Justice Alito, another George W. Bush nominee, in last week’s Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. Judge Southwick argued that the statute of limitations had begun to toll when Cannon first experienced her symptoms, even though a doctor did not tell her that her health issues were connected to her work until ten years later.

When questioned about these cases at his hearing and in written questions, Judge Southwick couched his answer in deference to the legislature and the lower courts. He did not address the fact that his interpretation was out of line with the rest of the court, and created enormous inequities for employees and injured individuals.

Giving a Pass to Jury Racial Discrimination

Judge Southwick participated in numerous cases involving challenges to the racial makeup of a jury under Batson v. Kentucky. [4] In 59 of 70 Batson cases reviewed, the defendants challenged their convictions on the ground that the prosecution had used peremptory challenges to strike African-American jurors. Judge Southwick voted to uphold the convictions in all but five of these cases. In 10 of these 70 Batson cases, the defendants challenged their convictions on the ground that the prosecution had unfairly prevented them from using their peremptory challenges to exclude white jurors (in one case the juror whom defendant sought to strike was Asian American). Defendants, with Judge Southwick joining the majority, lost all ten of these challenges. In the final case, the defendant challenged his conviction on both grounds and lost on both grounds, with Judge Southwick again in the majority.

Judge Southwick’s Few Civil Rights Cases Raise Enormous Concerns

In Richmond v. Mississippi Dep’t of Human Services, [5] Judge Southwick joined a 5-4 decision that found that, taken in context, an employee calling a co-worker a “good ole n******” was an insufficient ground to terminate her employment.

In S.B. v. L.W, [6] Judge Southwick joined a concurrence which stated that the “choice” to engage in homosexuality comes with consequences, up to and including the loss of custody of ones children.

When questioned extensively about these cases at his hearing and in the follow-up questionnaires, Judge Southwick refused to distance himself from these opinions, despite the fact that he was given numerous opportunities, and appears not to really understand the significance of the issues involved.

Recent Fifth Circuit History: Insult to Injury

There are seventeen seats on the Fifth Circuit, two of which are now vacant. Eleven of the occupied seats are held by Republican appointees, including three George W. Bush appointees. The Fifth Circuit seat to which Judge Southwick is nominated is one designated by tradition for Mississippians. The seat was previously held by Charles Pickering who was recess appointed in 2004. Pickering’s would-be successor Michael Wallace withdrew his controversial nomination in December of 2006. As Representative Al Green (D-TX) of the Congressional Black Caucus noted, “Pickering was an insult. Wallace was an injury. Leslie Southwick is adding insult to injury.”

Notably, only one of the seats on the Fifth Circuit is held by an African-American, despite the high African-American population in the circuit. Both of the current nominees for vacancies on the circuit, including Leslie Southwick, as well as the pending nominee for the Northern District of Mississippi, are white. Indeed, there has never been an African-American federal court of appeals judge from Mississippi, even though the state is 37% African-American.


Alliance for Justice hopes that this information is helpful to you. For more information on Judge Southwick, please see our Full Report (, our Fact Sheet (, and our Post-Hearing Report ________________________________________

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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