Senate Confirms Judge with Disputed Civil Rights Record Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Judge Leslie Southwick to the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. But opponents argue the judge's track record on civil rights makes him an unfit steward of the law.
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Senate Confirms Judge with Disputed Civil Rights Record

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Senate Confirms Judge with Disputed Civil Rights Record

Senate Confirms Judge with Disputed Civil Rights Record

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From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Judge Leslie Southwick to the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. But is Judge Southwick the right man for the job? The court serves the states of Missouri, Louisiana and Texas, a region shadowed by civil rights struggles. Opponents argue the judge doesn't have a track record on civil rights that makes him a good steward of the law.

In a moment, we'll talk with Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, an opponent of the judge's confirmation.

But first, Andy Taggart. He's an attorney living in Mississippi. He's also been a personal friend of Judge Southwick's for over 20 years. He's been a volunteer on several of his campaigns as well. Welcome.

Mr. ANDY TAGGART (Attorney, Andy Taggart, Legal and Strategic Counsel, PLLC): Good day. Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: So tell us about Judge Southwick. What kind of a person is he and how did you meet in the first place?

Mr. TAGGART: Well, Judge Southwick and I have been friends, really, for almost 30 years. We first met in 1980 in Jackson, Mississippi where he's lived since 1976, I have for really all my adult life as well. The simple fact of the matter is I hope I could be more like Leslie Southwick when I grow up. He's exactly the kind of man that I would like to be and that I would like for my three sons to grow up to be.

CHIDEYA: Well, opponents of his confirmation point to his civil rights record. One ruling called into question was his 1998 decision to give a social worker his job back after using a racial slur towards a co-worker. And in another case, he joined a ruling against a bisexual mother in a custody case. So what do you make of those decisions?

Mr. TAGGART: Well, first of all, I think that it is a grave, grave danger ever to pick out 2 out of 7,000 opinions in which a judge participated and try to make some sweeping characterization of his lifetime of service or his character. And I guess you could just as well say, couldn't you, that if those two cases are some indications of bad judgment on his part, then 6,998 times he was right, and those seem like pretty decent odds.

But even more importantly to me is the fact that you really ought to be considering the lifetime of service and the career - both the public and personal - of this man. He has lived his entire life as a man of honor and integrity and character. He served our nation in the United States Department of Justice. He served in Iraq. He served as the judge staff adjutant of his brigade. He is the kind of man who, when you consider who ought to be sitting on a federal court of appeals, what kind of temperament, what kind of character do we want? The photograph of Leslie Southwick ought to show up next to that question.

So I have no qualms whatever in telling folks who don't have the privilege of knowing him personally that this man is going to serve with great honor and dignity.

CHIDEYA: Some people would say that certainly the kind of leadership that you would build being in the military is one thing, but that personality cannot be taken into account when you look at his qualifications as a man. Do you think you're putting too much emphasis on his personal qualities as opposed to his judicial qualities?

Mr. TAGGART: Well, quite to the contrary, it seems to me that they are two very valid factors to consider when a determination is made about whether a person should sit on a federal court. The first is just raw legal competence. Is this person of the intelligent and intellectual brainpower and legal prowess that would qualify him or her for the role? And clearly, Judge Southwick very easily passes muster in that respect. Then the second question is: Is this a person of the sort of character and integrity and judicial temperament that we would want to see sitting on the federal bench? And again, Judge Southwick is exactly that kind of person. And it's really a tribute to the bipartisan view of the United States Senate that both of those factors were recognized and that he was, in fact, confirmed by a significant margin.

CHIDEYA: Now, you talk about the confirmation process, how closely did you follow it? And were you surprised by some of the criticisms of Judge Southwick?

Mr. TAGGART: I followed it very closely. And thanks for your question, I was very much surprised by the criticisms of Judge Southwick notwithstanding that I'm certainly aware that there is sort of a beginning bid that any conservative from Mississippi must be somehow a suspect, but even with that, I knew that Leslie Southwick was such a gentle man and gentleman and a man of such integrity in character that I really believed that he would not be subject to the same sort of pillory process that had occurred with some previous nominees, and so I was surprised and disappointed by the process, but delighted by the strong margin of support that he got when he was, in fact, confirmed.

CHIDEYA: Let's pull out just a little bit. You're an attorney. There has been a lot of conversation in the political world and the judicial world about what people sometimes call activist judges. How do you think that a judge's politics should or should not fit into how a person is evaluated as a jurist and how the nation evaluates jurists?

Mr. TAGGART: That's a very fair question. And I think what I would say is that I certainly think that the question of how a judge believes that prior precedent of higher courts, the function of the Constitution - vis-a-vis both federal and state legislation - and similar considerations are very valid, if by political, you would include in the scope of that term things like I've just described, I certainly do believe that those are valid considerations.

CHIDEYA: Do you believe that there's a chance that as the Bush administration has been in power and more conservative jurists have been appointed, that there will be, at some future point, a backlash in the appointment of judges of different political stripes?

Mr. TAGGART: I think that the entire confirmation process is very troubled right now, if that is your suggestion, and that it's unlikely that in the short intermediate term future, we will see it reaching a higher comfort level, that is to say that the tension will be removed from the process and some of the personal vitriol. On the other hand, I think what people will see very shortly into Judge Southwick's tenure is that he is so clearly the sort of person that ought to be sitting on the federal bench regardless of who's in the White House that at least his confirmation will not be used as an example by folks of the problems with the confirmation process.

CHIDEYA: Well, Mr. Taggart, thank you so much.

Mr. TAGGART: Thank you for the opportunity to visit.

CHIDEYA: Andy Taggart is an attorney living in Mississippi. He has also been a personal friend of Judge Southwick since 1980 and a volunteer on several of his campaigns.

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