WASHINGTON – The on-again, off-again fight over President Bush's judicial nominations could soon be on again with the nomination of Leslie H. Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the same circuit that has been trouble for two other Bush nominees.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday postponed a vote on Southwick for one week, at the request of ranking minority committee member Republican Sen. Arlen Specter.
Specter, R-Pa., is asking that Southwick be held over -- the third postponement on his vote -- so that he can continue working with Democrats to get the nomination voted out for consideration by the full Senate. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., agreed to Specter's request.
Liberal interest groups are lobbying hard for the defeat of this nominee to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 5th Circuit is the federal appeals court where controversial nominee Charles Pickering served out a year with a recess appointment and Mike Wallace was withdrawn after a unanimous negative rating by the American Bar Association.
Bush first nominated Southwick for a district judgeship in June 2006, and he was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the fall of 2006, Southwick was put forward for the circuit court position vacated by Wallace.
But senator on both sides of the political aisle are lining up for a showdown. Democrats are expected to oppose the nomination but could could go further and ask the White House to withdraw it altogether.
In response, a White House spokeswoman told FOX News she could not confirm any such conversations, "but I can assure you that the president continues to strongly support Judge Southwick's nomination."
A former state appeals court judge with rulings on some controversial civil and gay rights cases, Southwick has garnered extreme opposition from powerful liberal interest groups like the NAACP, People for the American Way, the Human Rights Campaign and the AFL-CIO.
The opposition, joined by the Congressional Black Caucus, also centers on the 5th Circuit itself, which is a target of minority interest groups that want a minority judge to be appointed there. Southwick is Caucasian.
In a letter to senators urging the nominee's defeat, the NAACP pointed to what it says is a "sad trend" in the 5th Circuit toward "curbing civil rights and retarding civil liberties" in an area dominated by racial and ethnic minorities. The NAACP accused Bush of "racial discrimination and racial discrimination" in his appointments.
On another issue, Southwick is being criticized for joining the majority in a 2001 custody ruling that gave a child to her father over her lesbian mother. The majority opinion mentioned the words "homosexual lifestyle" in relation to the decision.
PFAW President Ralph Neas called the use of those two words "troubling," and the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights lobbying group, said the words "denigrate" the court's members.
Another ruling in which Southwick joined the majority involves the racial epithet "N" word. The appeals court upheld a lower court ruling reinstating a white state social worker who had been fired for calling an African-American co-worker "a good ole nigger." The court found the agency acted properly in rehiring the employee, who had used the epithet only once and apologized to the co-worker. The ruling was eventually reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The White House spokeswoman said that the judge has received "a tremendous level of support" from people throughout the legal community.
Southwick, a Texas native who has lived in Mississippi for most of his life, was recommended by influential Mississippi Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran. He served in 1989 as a deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice in its civil division.
He also supervised the Office of Consumer Litigation, a 25-lawyer division charged with civil and criminal enforcement of federal consumer laws.
Southwick is currently a visiting professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, where he has been an adjunct professor since 1998. He also taught at the school from 1985 to 1989. He served in Iraq from 2004-2006.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has already postponed a vote on the nomination twice, and aides say it is unclear if he will bring up Southwick for a vote on Thursday, though the nomination is on the agenda to be considered.
The Senate nearly imploded in May 2005 in a parliamentary standoff between Republicans and Democrats, when a bipartisan group of 14 senators came together to avert the crisis.