Letter From Leslie Southwick to Sen. Feinstein

The following is a letter President Bush's 5th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Leslie Southwick wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

Leslie Southwick

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein

Senate Hart Office Bldg. 331

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Feinstein:

Thank you again for making time in an incredibly busy schedule to talk with me about my nomination. As you made clear to me today, one of your principal concerns is about an opinion that I joined which evaluated the use of a racial slur by a state employee. With your indulgence, I would like to give as complete an explanation as I can of my thoughts on the slur itself and how it was discussed in the opinion. The court said that the use of the word "cannot be justified" by any argument. It could have gone far beyond that legalistic statement. Captured in this one terrible word is a long, dark, sad chapter in our history. This racial slur is unique in its impact and painful to hear for many, including myself. I said at my hearing that this is the worst of all racial slurs. Its use is despicable. All people of good will should make their rejection of the word clear. The opinion had an opportunity to express more fully and accurately the

complete disgust that should greet the use of this word. Such a statement would certainly be consistent with my own beliefs that this is the worst kind of insult. As I testified, everyone took this issue extraordinarily seriously. I regret that the failure to express in

more depth our repugnance of the use of this phrase has now led to an impression that we did not approach this case with sufficient gravity and understanding of the impact of this word.

Since this opinion has been considered by some to be the window into my own beliefs, a peek into my soul, allow me to give you some events in my life that reflect my strong beliefs in fairness and opportunity for all and my rejection of racial insults. I always tried to treat everyone who came before me as ajudge with respect. I gave a memorandum to each of my law clerks that they were to use no disparaging words towards anyone in a draft opinion, no matter what the appeal was about. From the bench and in my opinions, I followed that same rule. I believe that everyone whom I encounter, whether as a judge or in some purely private capacity, is deserving of my respect. I took a broad view in looking for staff. I was one of the original ten judges on the Court of Appeals, taking office in January 1995. In my second year on the court, I became the first white judge to hire an African-American law clerk on that court. I could not have been more pleased with her work, and she went on to be a partner in a major Mississippi law firm. I was equally pleased with the two additional African-American clerks I hired before I left the court.

For several years - until funding problems caused its demise - I was the president of a local charity called the Jackson Servant Leadership Corps. This was a faith-based charity that provided a house in the inner city for five recent college graduates to live for a year, and to learn about working for charities. They were provided a stipend by AmeriCorps and worked at a local soup kitchen, for Habitat for Humanity, and for other charities. Every Martin Luther King Day we were the coordinators for work projects in the community, matching up volunteers with needs. We had a MLK Day speaker and a march by the volunteers to the site of the speech, to close out the day. Fortunately another charity was able to take on that responsibility when we closed down. Other charities in which I have been active, such as Habitat for Humanity and the Hinds County Mental Health Association, have been those whose concerns have focused on the disadvantaged of all races.

Until the last two months, my fairness and temperament had not been subject to criticisms. The recent concern may have arisen from the fact that only one piece of evidence was being used, namely, the racial slur opinion. A much better explanation of my own abhorrence of this slur clearly could have been written. I have tried in this explanation to express my disgust for the use of that word and to present some of the evidence from my own life to prove my commitment to furthering the civil rights of all.

Thank you again for your effort to understand not just the words in an opinion, but my heart.


Leslie H. Southwick