by Amy Matsui
Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for Fifth Circuit nominee Leslie Southwick. Southwick was a judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals for 12 years. During that time, he joined some pretty outrageous decisions. For example, he joined an opinion ruling that an employee who had referred to another employee as a “good ole n*****” should not have been fired, because the employee was not motivated by racial hatred and because the use of this incredibly offensive racial slur was not sufficiently inflammatory or disruptive. The Mississippi Supreme Court later unanimously overturned this decision. In addition, Southwick joined a gratuitous concurrence in a custody case. The majority had already denied custody to the child’s mother, who was bisexual and in a relationship with another woman, on a number of grounds (including the mother’s unstable financial situation in addition to the “stability of her home” and her “moral fitness”). However, the concurrence focused exclusively on the mother’s sexual orientation in order to hammer home the point that what it called an individual’s “decision to participate in a homosexual relationship” has consequences (in Mississippi at least), including the possibility of losing custody of one’s child.
Southwick was asked about these cases at his hearing last week – specifically, whether he still stuck by those rulings or would make different choices if he had it to do all over again. He stood by his decision to join the separate concurrence in the custody case. With regard to the racial slur case, Southwick said he did not believe in “changing horses midstream,” but that if such a case came before him again, he would try to take into account how people are affected. Not much of a surprise that our minds are not at ease.