Black Caucus Says Judge Southwick 'Unfit to Serve'

By Evan Moore | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - The Congressional Black Caucus, a coalition of African-American congressmen in the House of Representatives, denounced the Senate Judiciary Committee's decision to move Judge Leslie Southwick's nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

Conservative activists, however, are urging like-minded Americans to press the Senate for a quick vote.

"With the Senate on a month-long August recess, it is important for Americans to contact their Senators to let them know that they expect a vote on Judge Southwick very soon," said Fidelis, a Catholic-based advocacy group that supports the confirmation of judges who are faithful to the U.S. Constitution.

President Bush nominated Southwick to sit on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans eight months ago. Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-9 to send Southwick's nomination to the full Senate. (See earlier story)

In a statement, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Carolyn C. Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) said, "Judge Southwick's intolerant racial views and his fixed right-wing worldview make him wrong for the Fifth Circuit."

She called the Fifth Circuit "the last line of enforcement for the federal rights of residents of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, which has the highest percentage of minority residents in the United States."

Liberals have criticized Judge Southwick for his concurring opinion in two controversial cases: one involving the use of a racial slur in a workplace and the second involving the rights of homosexual parents.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) denounced the Judiciary Committee for advancing Southwick's nomination, calling it "a giant step backward for civil rights advocates everywhere."

Southwick is unfit to serve on the federal bench, Thompson said. "His record on issues of equal opportunity and fairness disqualify him."

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, complained that "the committee's favorable vote for Southwick's confirmation is a slap in the face to African-Americans and all people of good will."

Targeting conservative nominees

At last Thursday's business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) urged President Bush to nominate an African-American to the Fifth Circuit because of the racism charges associated with Southwick.

David Almasi, executive director of the National Center for Public Policy, was critical of Leahy's proposal. He told Cybercast News Service, "If anyone is throwing race into this whole nomination process, it sounds like Chairman Leahy is the one doing it.

"Obviously, anyone with a conservative background [who is] nominated for the appeals court has a big target on their back from Day One. It's just standard operating procedure for the political hacks out there to find something that they consider racist, sexist, class-ist, whatever, to try to keep these nominees from getting the fair vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate that they deserve."

Andrew Hyman, a Connecticut attorney who runs the conservative Web site, also attacked Leahy's argument.

"This president and his GOP predecessor have appointed just as many African-Americans to the U.S. circuit courts as President Clinton did, and twice as many as were appointed from 1776 to 1976," said Hyman last Thursday when the committee sent Southwick's nomination to the full Senate.

Almasi dismissed the Congressional Black Caucus's objections to Southwick, telling Cybercast News Service, "none of these people are senators, so what they say is moot. ...They don't have a vote."

"The people that are coming out and implying his racism are politicians who are helping Senate liberals keep the Bush judicial nominations bottled-up for as long as they can .... [If] you level the charge of racism, you propel your charges to the front page. ... It's just a matter of 'how can we tar these people?'"

Almasi was optimistic that Southwick's nomination would not be filibustered by "Blue State" Democrats.

This is largely due to the fact that liberal Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein has expressed her support for Southwick and "pretty much pulled away the final log to get the process going," said Almasi.

While race is not a prerequisite for membership in the CBC, it is an unwritten rule that white congressmen need not apply. Liberal Democratic Rep. Stephen Cohen (Tenn.), who took Harold Ford's seat for the Memphis District, was essentially told he wasn't wanted, reported

And Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) applied for membership in 1976. Although half his constituents are African-American, Stark was rejected. The CBC "said the issue was that I was white," he told, "and they felt it was important that the group be limited to African Americans."

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