Heat Turned Up in Senate on Nomination of Judge Leslie Southwick

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell turned up the heat Wednesday on the nomination of Leslie H. Southwick to be a judge on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Louisiana, introducing a nonbinding resolution that says Southwick should get an up-or-down vote.

This resolution — offered as an amendment to the State Children's Health Insurance Program bill that's currently on the floor — was likely to be stymied, however, later Wednesday, when the Senate votes on whether to "table" — or kill — it.

The fundamental issue, McConnell said, is the ongoing effort by the two parties to use judicial nominees for political points.

"When do we stop it for the sake of the instituation and for the sake of the country and for the sake of the party that may not currently occupy the nomination?" McConnell asked. "It occurs to me that the Leslie Southwick nomination is a good opportunity" to end the partisanship.

The outcome of this vote is unclear, as Southwick has been making the rounds quietly meeting with moderate Democrats. As reported by FOX News last week, Southwick met with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a former member of the Gang of 14 credited with averting a judicial nominees showdown in the Senate in 2005. Nelson came out and said he saw no problems with Southwick that would cause him to oppose the nominee.

Others, however, say they oppose Southwick over some controversial civil and gay rights cases where he was a member of the adjudicating panel. 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.

Opposition from 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.

President Bush first nominated Southwick for a district judgeship in June 2006, and he was unanimously approved by the Republican-run Senate Judiciary Committee. In the fall of 2006, he was put forward for the circuit court position.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, whose committee is responsible for vetting the nominees, met McConnell's move with one of his own. Mentioning nothing about the actual substance of the nominee, Leahy announced on the Senate floor that despite not having received a request from Republicans to bring Southwick up for a vote in committee, as is common practice, he will hold a vote in the committee on Thursday.

"I'm growing somewhat tired of statements being made" that exhibit the hypocrisy of the politics used in the nomination, Leahy said in explaining why he put Southwick back on the committee agenda. "Let's stop the hypocrisy, the crocodile tears."

If no Democrats have been convinced about Southwick's credibility, it is highly likely this nominee will be defeated in committee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will not bring the nomination to the floor if Southwick cannot get out of committee.

Leahy also highlighted the record of Democrats clearing Bush nominees —- they do indeed have a better record than Republicans for Bush in the aggregate though Republicans cleared more circuit court nominees.