Speeches & Floor Statements
Posted on August 1, 2007
Mr. President, when I was first elected to the Senate in 2002, I recognized the so-called maiden speech tradition, and I came here expecting to talk about U.S. history. I was so disappointed by the debate that I found going on in February of 2003 about the President's appointment of Miguel Estrada to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that I spoke for a long time one night about the unfairness that I felt about that. I thought he was a superbly qualified individual and that a case was being manufactured against him to try to prevent an up-or-down vote. Then, along came the nomination of Judge Charles Pickering, of Mississippi, who in the 1950s and 1960s, while others were making speeches about civil rights, was living it out in the middle of Mississippi. He was testifying against someone who was described as the "most violent living racist" in Mississippi and putting his children into desegregated schools at a time when others weren't. There was a manufactured, unfair case against him. The Senate came to its senses shortly thereafter and began to develop a procedure where judges could get an up-or-down vote. This now brings me to the matter of Judge Leslie Southwick, of Mississippi, whom the President has nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit -- the same position for which Judge Pickering was nominated. Yet, despite his excellent qualifications, his nomination has not been reported to the floor by the Judiciary Committee for a fair up-or-down vote. It seems that Judge Southwick may be the first target in a new round of character assassination by some in this body. That seat has been vacant for 6 years. This is one of the most important courts in America. I was a law clerk on that court -- actually a messenger, but I was treated like a law clerk -- to the great Judge John Minor Wisdom, who served with Judge Tuttle, Judge Rives, and Judge Brown, all of whom presided over the segregation of the South. I value that court and the quality of judges who have been there. Judge Southwick has that same quality. He has 11 years of service as a Mississippi State appellate court judge. He had military service in Iraq as a staff judge advocate. He has been a professor at Mississippi College of Law. He has had service as a senior Justice Department official. He has had more than 20 years in private practice in Jackson. He is rated unanimously "well qualified" by the American Bar Association. He has been honored by the Mississippi State Bar with its Judicial Excellence Award. What is it about the Democrats and Mississippi judges? This is an enormously well-qualified judge from Mississippi, and the Democrats, apparently because he is from Mississippi, do not want to give him a fair up-or-down vote. That is totally unfair and it is beneath the dignity of this body and I object to it strenuously. This judgeship has been labeled a “judicial emergency” by the nonpartisan Administrative Office of the Courts. What is the manufactured case? The case that has been made against him, if a student were to send it in to any accredited law school, would be sent back with an F and the student would be told to prepare better. First, it is said he participated in an opinion he didn't even write which put the first amendment ahead of a racial slur. That is always -- always -- a difficult decision to make, but the Mississippi Supreme Court said it was the correct decision. Judge Southwick reiterated his disdain for racial slurs. He said the racial slur in question is "always offensive" and "inherently and highly derogatory." He did not even write the opinion. Yet for some reason that is thought to be inappropriate. Then they said he joined in a case that used the words "homosexual lifestyle." He didn't write the opinion. That phrase "homosexual lifestyle" may not be preferred by some, but it is very commonly used in American legal opinions by the U.S. Supreme Court, for example, in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down the Texas ban on sodomy. It was also used by President Bill Clinton when he announced his "don't ask don't tell" policy. That is the manufactured case. So I ask my colleagues to remember the difficulties we had in 2003 and 2004, when the Senate did not look at its best, when it was manufacturing cases against otherwise well-qualified and distinguished men and women who had been nominated to the court. I hope the Judiciary Committee will bring Judge Leslie Southwick's name forward to the full Senate so we can have an up-or-down vote. He deserves a vote. The Senate deserves to respect its traditions regarding nominees, and the American people deserve to be served by a man of such quality.