The Senate confirmed Judge Leslie Southwick to the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals by a vote of 59-38 this morning.
The controversial nomination rustled feathers with top Democrats who were opposed due in part to Southwick’s actions in two separate gay and civil rights cases. Several hyperliberal groups, including the People for the American Way and civil rights groups such as the NAACP, opposed Southwick. But Democrats lacked the votes to filibuster or block the confirmation.
Southwick, a former state appeals court judge, was approved by the Judiciary Committee in a 10-9 vote last August and Republicans have rallied support for his appointment since.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in August that he was “strongly opposed” to the nomination because of Southwick’s “failure to give full weight to the vile meaning and history of racial slurs is deeply disturbing…”
But Republicans — along with a few moderate Democrats, combated negative campaigns against Southwick by advocating he would judge constitutionally. Sen. Joe Leiberman (I-Conn.) voted for the nomination as well.
Presidential candidate John McCain (R-Ariz.) left the campaign trail in New Hampshire to return to Washington for the vote today.
“Given such delaying tactics and the smear campaign orchestrated against [him], is it any wonder the American people have lost trust in their government?” McCain said. He added liberals, “including Democratic presidential candidates,” opposed Southwick because they “know he will strictly interpret the law rather than make it from the bench.”
Southwick, who is an Iraq War veteran, currently teaches law at Mississippi College School of Law and formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division.
The nomination is a victory for President Bush, who has envisioned more conservatives on the appellate bench. Southwick received bi-partisan support, though, with 49 Republicans and 12 Democrats to grab two more votes the necessary for approval.
Most notably, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sided with Republicans to support the nomination, saying Southwick was “qualified” and boosting Democratic support. Feinstein previously voted against Bush’s former nominees to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said there is “no question that he has had an impressive life of service” and is qualified to serve. He urged Senators before to hearing to “vote for cloture to save future nominations from the same kind of problem of this nominee and a potential that a different standard is applied in the future with respect to confirming nominees.”
Reid and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il) have led charges against South for months — with Durbin labeling him an “extremist judicial nominee.” Some Democratic groups, like the Congressional Black Caucus and DC Delegate Eleanor Norton Holmes said there would be “consequences” to confirming Southwick but many consider the lifetime appointment a victory for the Supreme Court.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “A clear bipartisan majority agreed that [Southwick] is exceedingly qualified to continue serving his country.”