Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Southwick filibuster fails, Senate confirms controversial judge

Reposted from "the Carpetbagger Report"

In June, Senate Republicans threatened a “major meltdown” in the chamber unless Senate Dems cleared the way for Leslie Southwick’s confirmation to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Regrettably, the GOP got exactly what it wanted today.

Leslie Southwick’s controversial nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was approved by the Senate Wednesday, 59-38, shortly after a bipartisan group of Senators narrowly surpassed a critical 60-vote threshold to avert a filibuster.

The 62-35 vote on the key procedural motion all but assured Southwick’s confirmation to the federal appellate bench, as the vote on final passage only required a simple majority.
…Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said the vote helped the Senate duck “serious consequences” for the future of the institution.

There have been quite a few veiled threats of late over the Southwick nomination, with Republicans vowing a full-blown partisan war unless he won Senate approval. In this sense, the good news is the chamber will avoid yet another ugly fight. The bad news is, too many Senate Dems caved (again) and an awful Bush judicial nominee gets a lifetime appointment to a key judicial seat.

For a while, it looked like Dems had the votes to block Southwick in committee, but then Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) let us down. Then, it looked like Dems had the votes to block Southwick on the floor, but that was before Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) let us down, striking some nebulous deal with Republicans, whereby Southwick wins confirmation in exchange for GOP support on some spending bills.

Of all the judicial nominees for Republicans to go to war over, Southwick was the wrong one. Emily Bazelon’s explained a while back that Southwick’s confirmation hearings helped highlight what kind of judge he is.

As a judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals for 12 years, Leslie Southwick participated in more than 7,000 cases. Now he is President Bush’s nominee for a long-vacant seat on the Fifth Circuit, one of the federal appeals courts. At Southwick’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked him to give an example of an unpopular decision he’d made in favor of somebody downtrodden — a poor person, or a member of a minority group, or someone who’d simply turned to the courts for help. Judge Southwick couldn’t name a single one.

The question might sound like a bit of a stunt. But other data show that Judge Southwick’s answer fits with his larger record. He has a pattern of voting against workers and the injured and in favor of corporations. According to the advocacy group Alliance for Justice, Southwick voted “against the injured party and in favor of business interests” in 160 of 180 cases that gave rise to a dissent and that involved employment law and injury-based suits for damages. When one judge on a panel dissents in a case, there’s an argument it could come out either way, which makes these cases a good measure of how a judge thinks when he’s got some legal leeway. In such cases, Judge Southwick almost never favors the rights of workers or people who’ve suffered discrimination or been harmed by a shoddy product.

And from the NYT’s recent editorial urging the Senate to reject Southwick’s nomination.
President Bush’s latest appeals court nominee, Leslie Southwick, has a disturbing history of insensitivity to blacks and other minority groups. The Senate should reject this nomination and make clear to the White House that it will reject all future nominees who do not meet the high standards of fairness that are essential for such important posts.

A non-negotiable quality for judicial nominees is that they must be committed to equal justice. Judge Southwick, whom President Bush has nominated for a seat on the New Orleans-based United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, repeatedly failed this test as a Mississippi state court judge.

When the voters put Democrats in the majority in Congress last fall, they were sending a message that the era of extremism in Washington should come to an end. Senate Democrats can show that they understood this message by rejecting Judge Southwick and insisting on a more moderate nominee, who will respect the rights of all.

On the cloture vote that would have blocked Southwick’s confirmation, Republicans ended up with 62 votes, two more than they needed. Among the presidential candidates in the chamber, Obama, Biden, and Clinton voted for the filibuster, Dodd did not vote, and McCain voted with the GOP.

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