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The Nominee

A Political and Spiritual Journey

Leslie H. Southwick

Publication Year: 2013

President George W. Bush nominated Leslie H. Southwick in 2007 to the federal appeals court, Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans. Initially, Southwick seemed a consensus nominee. Just days before his hearing, though, a progressive advocacy group distributed the results of research it had conducted on opinions of the state court on which he had served for twelve years. Two opinions Southwick had signed off on but not written became the center of the debate over the next five months. One dealt with a racial slur by a state worker, the other with a child custody battle between a father and a bisexual mother. Apparent bipartisan agreement for a quick confirmation turned into a long set of battles in the Judiciary Committee, on the floor of the Senate, and in the media.

In early August, Senator Dianne Feinstein completely surprised her committee colleagues by supporting Southwick. Hers was the one Democratic vote needed to move the nomination to the full Senate. Then in late October, by a two-vote margin, he received the votes needed to end a filibuster. Confirmation followed.

Southwick recounts the four years he spent at the Department of Justice, the twelve years on a state court, and his military service in Iraq while deployed with a Mississippi National Guard Brigade. During the nomination inferno Southwick maintained a diary of the many events, the conversations and emails, the joys and despairs, and quite often, the prayers and sense of peace his faith gave him--his memoir bears significant spiritual content. Throughout the struggle, Southwick learned that perspective and growth are important to all of us when making decisions, and he grew to accept his critics, regardless of outcome. In The Nominee there is no rancor, and instead the book expresses the understanding that the difficult road to success was the most helpful one for him, both as a man and as a judge.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-2

I begin my expressions of gratitude by identifying two people whose roles were fundamental. One made me want to be a Fifth Circuit judge, and the other gave me the chance to become one.
The idea of being a judge on that court was a seed planted by Charles Clark, the Fifth Circuit judge for whom I worked during my second year after law school. The seed was slow to germinate because it seemed impossible,...

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pp. 3-8

In January 2007, I was nominated by President George W. Bush to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from Mississippi. In early May, and continuing for almost six months, I became in news reports and opposing senators’ speeches and too many other places “the controversial judicial nominee.” That phrase represented the essence ...

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1 The Final Day

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pp. 9-17

It was 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 24, 2007. No need to keep looking at the clock. I had not slept much and definitely would not start now. I had spent the night at the Andrews Air Force Base visiting officer quarters in suburban Washington. Even a Mississippi National Guardsman like myself could get a room when vacancies were available. I arrived on Monday. It ...

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2 Beginnings

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pp. 18-35

The voyage that was arriving at its destination on that October day was the result of people and events that influenced my life long before President Bush nominated me. Some provided opportunities that set my course or gave me obstacles that redirected me. Others shaped my interests. There were companions who traveled with me. A few parts of my background ...

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3 The Bush Administration

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pp. 36-49

I was tempted but undecided about whether to try to follow Bush to Washington. It was a difficult decision to leave private law practice for the uncertainties of a political position in Washington. Sharon was unenthusiastic. She did not want to move, to sell or rent the home we had built just four years earlier, to find schools for Philip and Cathy, and otherwise ...

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4 The Mississippi Court of Appeals

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pp. 50-66

On Inauguration Day 1993, as Bill Clinton stood on a platform at the Capitol to be sworn in, I was packing a U-Haul trailer to return to Jackson. A moving van had already taken almost everything back to Mississippi when Sharon, Philip, and Cathy went home the previous June....

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5 Clinton’s Fifth Circuit Choices

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pp. 67-74

Controversies about circuit judge nominations used to be extremely rare if not quite nonexistent. The first circuit court judge positions were created in 1869. The first nomination to the Fifth Circuit not to be approved was made in 1881, the second in 1943, and the third in 1979. Then, what had been gaps of multiple decades between defeats became much shorter....

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6 A Hesitant Application

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pp. 75-81

Several judicial nominees of the next president, George W. Bush, encountered more than the usual resistance. To designate one of them as having the most contentious struggle would be too bold. It is safe, though, to identify Charles Pickering’s nomination to the Fifth Circuit as a clear finalist for that designation. Pickering was nominated for the Henry Politz seat,...

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7 Becoming a Soldier

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pp. 82-87

As I worried and then despaired about my personal ambitions, others were making plans for war. The attacks of September 11, 2001, created a new perspective. This tragedy in so many lives made my pursuit of judicial office seem frivolous and selfish.
This was one of those rare events in which adults at the time can easily remember where we were when we learned. I was walking down the fire...

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8 Mixed Judicial and Military Pursuits

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pp. 88-101

Judge Pickering’s initial hearing in the Judiciary Committee was on October 18, 2001.1 It was immediately clear he would have to return. Senator Ted Kennedy said he was not trying to block the nomination, but he wanted to see many more of the judge’s opinions from his eleven years on the district court. So did fellow Democrats Pat Leahy and Chuck...

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9 Training and Pursuing

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pp. 102-115

A week after Leslie King’s selection, I learned of another reason I just would not do as chief judge. It was a long-awaited, desired, but still-feared telephone call.
“Saturday, May 8, 2004. Lieutenant Colonel Roy Carpenter called at the house at about 3:15. Sharon answered. She did not know who it was ...

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10 A Year in Iraq

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pp. 116-129

The events of 2005 involved far more important matters than my frustrated ambition. I had a chance to fulfill my dream of serving in the military, as so many other Americans had before me.
On January 15, I sent my last letters to Philip and Cathy before leaving Camp Shelby. “I am definitely ready for the deployment to Iraq to be under...

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11 Back Home and Breaking Through

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pp. 130-141

After taking most of January off, I finally went back to the court. This was my reelection year. Deciding whether to run again would be affected by the decision on the federal judicial appointment. There still was no word from the White House.
On January 23, 2006, I e-mailed Senator Cochran’s chief of staff, Mark Keenum. I wanted to be sure the senator knew I was back. Mark replied: ...

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12 The Fifth Circuit Shift

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pp. 142-151

By the time this very long journey ended, I had kept three separate wordprocessing documents that made up my diary. The first started with the gleam in my eye in 1991 and was kept haphazardly until after the 2000 election. The second document was dedicated to what happened in 2006 about the district court, which could be described as either a lot or almost...

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13 The Hearing

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pp. 152-165

Trent Lott was a senator who made things happen, who enjoyed the battle and loved to win. Commentators would remark about how his hair was perfectly combed and unmoving. To me, his appearance symbolized how well organized he was in all ways. Once committed to a goal, he was indefatigable. I heard him in action once in his office, speaking on the phone,...

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14 The Sorting Out

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pp. 166-178

I was discouraged. I had hoped that what in my view were simplistic and political criticisms that did not take account of the limited role of an appellate judge would not have any effect on the senators. Could the Democratic senators really believe the harsh things they were saying?...

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15 A Pause, and a New Approach

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pp. 179-191

Among those following my lack of progress were my former secretary at the state court and three prospective law clerks, all of whom by late May had an offer to join me at the Fifth Circuit, contingent on my getting there myself. One of my occasional status reports was sent at this time....

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16 Desperation, and Witches and Martyrs

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pp. 192-206

The nature of my problem with Senator Leahy became public on July 19. He released a statement, posted on the committee’s Web site.1
I have urged the White House to work with Senators of both parties and to fill the 5th Circuit vacancy from Mississippi with the nomination of the Honorable Henry Wingate. Judge Wingate would be the first African...

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17 The Committee Speaks

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pp. 207-212

Because I was in Washington, I did not see the morning Jackson newspaper. That was for the best. A front-page story was subtitled “Southwick Nomination Not Expected to Pass Committee Muster Today.”1 The article said that no Democrat was expected to vote for me. Photos of Henry Wingate and of me were atop the article. The reporter said Senator Leahy had...

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18 A Lull: Would There Be a Storm?

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pp. 213-223

An encouraging news story appeared in Roll Call on August 6. It had a terrific title, “Gang May Reunite for Deal on Southwick.”1 It started with this line: “As Republican Senators prepare for a possible September standoff with Democrats over their choice for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the remaining members of the bipartisan ‘Gang of 14’ say they...

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19 The Final Two Trips

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pp. 224-234

The Senate was in recess for a week. On Sunday, October 7, the Jackson newspaper quoted Thad as saying that senator Harry Reid, who as majority leader had the authority to schedule votes, had agreed to delay my vote, saying, “I’ll call him up when you want me to call him up.” That concession was hugely important and controversial. Months later, I read a newspaper ...

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20 The Beginning of the Last Day

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pp. 235-253

The next morning, back I went to Capitol Hill. For better or worse, the end was near.
At the beginning of the book, I described the morning up until the time the vote began. There had been two early morning meetings, the first with Colorado senator Ken Salazar at 7:30, the other with senator Tom...

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21 The Vote

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pp. 240-246

The end of a sixteen-year journey was near. The destination was thirty minutes away, but looking toward it revealed nothing. Looking back, though, I could see so many things:
A decade and a half of hopes and disappointments, then a call from my dear friend Thad Cochran saying I would be nominated that day....

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22 A Victory Lap

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pp. 247-253

Senator Specter and his staff organized a reception for me in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room at 5:00 that afternoon. Republican senators Kyl, Hatch, and Cornyn were there. So was Senator Feinstein. It was a soft-drink reception until Senator Feinstein had California wine brought over from her office. There were perhaps forty people, including ...

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23 Reflections

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pp. 254-260

Less than a week after my vote, the Boston Globe columnist Peter Canellos wrote that many opponents had been infuriated at my victory. He then wrote sensitively about the perspective of nominees who go through such experiences. He discussed the personal cost to the nominee, a point he quoted Senator Feinstein as having made in one of her speeches about me....

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pp. 261-262

The political turmoil that greeted each white male nominee to a federal court in Mississippi since the late 1980s arose from the insistence that more black judges had to be named. With Barack Obama’s election in 2008, the demand would be answered....

Appendix: Selection of Fifth Circuit Judges, 1869–2012

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pp. 263-276


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pp. 277-301

Index and Image Plates

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pp. 302-331

E-ISBN-13: 9781617039126
E-ISBN-10: 1621039943
Print-ISBN-13: 9781621039945

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Southwick, Leslie H., 1950-.
  • Judges -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States. Court of Appeals (5th Circuit) -- Officials and employees -- Selection and appointment.
  • Judges -- Selection and appointment -- United States.
  • Political questions and judicial power -- United States.
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