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.

OCTOBER 22, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
Contact Us | Tell-a-Friend | Archives | Permalink


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.


ETHICS — GONZALES MAY FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR MISLEADING CONGRESS: Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may face criminal charges for statements he made about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys while under oath, revealed former U.S. attorney John McKay on Friday. McKay, the ousted U.S. attorney from Washington state, told the Federal Bar Association that he believes charges could come “at the conclusion of an investigation, possibly as early as next month,” adding that “Gonzales ‘lied about’ reasons for the firings when questioned under oath in July by the Senate Judiciary Committee.” McKay believes that his refusal to start a criminal investigation into voter fraud allegations in Washington’s 2004 gubernatorial race may have been the reason was fired. “There was a conspiracy to politicize the Justice Department, and they did not get away with it,” he said. After stepping down as Attorney General, Gonzales hired a “high-powered Washington criminal-defense lawyer” to “represent him in inquires by Congress and the Justice Department.” His “top concern” was the prospect of criminal charges being filed.

ADMINISTRATION — BOLTON WORKED TO ‘THWART’ POWELL’S DIPLOMATIC PLANS FOR IRAN: In a forthcoming memoir, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton writes that “he worked hard to thwart” then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s plans in 2004 to offer “carrots” to Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions. In the memoir, Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, Bolton writes, “Powell had violated our long-standing Iran policy, colluded with the EU-3 [France, Britain, and Germany] against it and come out nearly endorsing [Sen. John] Kerry’s position only weeks before our election.” Bolton then boasts, “I had foiled Powell’s legacy gambit. I knew it, and he knew I knew it.” Bolton, who previously served as undersecretary of state, rarely masks his disdain for diplomacy with Iran. Recently, Bolton called for regime change in Iran, suggesting that the experience in Iraq showed that regime change “did work.” In August, he said he “absolutely” hoped that the Bush administration would attack Iran.

IRAN — KRISTOL CALLS IRAN ‘THE ONLY REAL THREAT’ TO SUCCESS IN IRAQ: Yesterday, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol declared that the “only” concern left for the United States in Iraq is dealing with alleged Iranian involvement in Iraq. “I think we are going to have to be serious about dealing with…[Iran’s] intervention in Iraq,” said Kristol, “which now the only real threat, I think, incidentally, to relative success in Iraq.” While Iran may be causing some violence in Iraq, there are other pressing “threats” to “success.” A National Intelligence Estimate released in February concluded that Iranian involvement was “not likely” to be a major driver of violence. An August McClatchy analysis found that the majority of suicide bombers in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia, not Iran. In reality, “Iraq’s complex and overlapping sectarian, political and ethnic conflicts, as well as the difficult security situation continue to hinder progress in promoting economic development, the rule of law and political reconciliation,” according to Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Brown. Kristol used his allegations of Iranian involvement in Iraq to push for more war in the Middle East, claiming, “There has to be the credible threat of force” with Iran. He was quickly rebuked by NPR’s Juan Williams. “The thing is we have our military stretched beyond all bounds,” said Williams. “And you seem to want to engage in other wars. I don’t know why you feel this way.” 


Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday issued “his sternest warning to date on Iran.” “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he said, adding, “The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.”

Legal experts say the granting of retroactive immunity by Congress is “unusual, particularly in a case involving private companies.” Salon’s Glenn Greenwald notes that former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy spoke out forcefully against retroactive immunity.

Following a cross border raid by Kurdish militants from Iraq killed 17 Turkish soldiers yesterday, pressure increased for Turkey to launch a strike into Northern Iraq, but Turkey’s Prime Minister delayed a decision after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice personally intervened.

“The U.S. military has increased airstrikes in Iraq fivefold this year. … Coalition forces launched 1,140 airstrikes in the first nine months of this year compared with 229 in all of last year.” After a “major bombardment” near Baghdad killed 49 people, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called for U.S. military restraint.

Last spring, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) berated Democrats for “blocking his proposal requiring Members to disclose the existence and value of their personal residences.” McHenry, however, has not disclosed at least three pieces of property “that he owns worth more than $300,000 combined.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen expressed concerns that the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan had undermined the military’s ability to prevent other conflicts. “Because we have had such an intense focus on the Middle East and Iraq and Afghanistan, there is risk associated with those other parts of the world,” Mullen said.

On CBS”s 60 Minutes last night, Tom Swetnam, one of the world’s leading fire ecologists, said that the warming climate is fueling mega-fires. “Swetnam says that climate change — global warming — has increased temperatures in the West about one degree and that has caused four times more fires.”

And finally: Salt-n-Peppa’s remix of their 90’s hit “Whatta Man” has a reference to Obama. In the original version, the song contained this line: “A body like Arnold with a Denzel face.” The new version alters the line to read: “A body like Obama…”

SIGN UP for the Progress Report

Read Our Blog: Think Progress

Under the Radar
Think Fast


“A Senate subcommittee is scheduled to begin work this week on a bill that could be the main vehicle for provisions aimed at curbing global warming.


FLORIDA: “Florida is emerging as a model for how populous states and developing nations deal with climate change.”

NEVADA: As the government steps up its surveillance efforts, privacy advocates view Las Vegas’s data mining “as a harbinger of things to come.”

: Are lower water levels in the Great Lakes a result of global warming?


THINK PROGRESS: Pentagon pushes for “high-profile” convictions of detainees ahead of ’08 elections.

THE NEXT HURRAH: Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales refuses to answer questions about Justice Department investigation.

TAPPED: At this weekend’s Values Voters summit, the Family Research Council excluded Iraq, national security, poverty, and environmental stewardship from a straw poll of top priorities.

CROOKS AND LIARS: PBS’s Bill Moyers documents Blackwater’s “spectacle of spin.”


“Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told Congress yesterday that the deployment of 30,000 more troops to Iraq has made enough progress that the additional combat forces can be pulled out by next summer.”
— Washington Post, 9/11/07, after Petraeus’s testimony before Congress


“If General Petraeus early next year sees the security situation deteriorating, he will have the courage to go back to the president and say he needs to keep forces that he had planned to send home.”
— Senior adviser to Petraeus Col. John R. Martin, 10/22/07

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.