Thursday, November 14, 2013

Southwick book an exhibit for confirmation reform

From "Southwick's judicial journey" by Brian Perry
Attorneys interested in the machinations of how federal judges are selected, nominated, confirmed and appointed will find an insightful look behind the scenes in "The Nominee: A Political and Spiritual Journey," the new book by U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge Leslie H. Southwick published by University Press of Mississippi. But the memoir goes beyond legal intrigue and provides and entertaining and exhaustive study of the politics of judicial confirmation for all those interested in the past and future of the judiciary. (Legal or political history nerds will also find helpful his appendix reviewing the background of selection for all Fifth Circuit judges from 1869 to 2012.) Southwick provides an honest account of his struggle to reach the court of appeals bench: ambition checked by humility; calculated moves tempered by seeking God's will; partisan conflict in which he becomes a pawn for a battle not his own but holding his future career in the balance. In 2006, Southwick was nominated for a federal district judge position but that nomination expired without action by the Senate. In 2007, after the U.S. Senate had blocked the nominations of first Judge Charles Pickering, Sr. and later attorney Michael Wallace, Southwick was chosen and his real battle against liberal special interest groups began. Through meetings with Democratic Senators explaining his court opinions, efforts by Cochran and Senator Trent Lott in persuading their colleagues, and the White House rejecting "deals" as it had rejected with Pickering's nomination, ultimately Southwick was confirmed overcoming a filibuster by three votes and then confirmed with a 59 vote majority. The book is not only a political memoir, but a story of a man following his faith and acknowledging his own failures. It is also another testament to the broken judicial confirmation process. I find similar emotions and observations from Southwick and many others who have commented on the judicial selection process. An honorable man is frustrated when his character is assaulted. There is a desire for people to know the truth. A nominee and his family face anguish over months and years as the process drags on at "glacial" speed with their lives and careers in limbo. Those observations are not only from Republican nominees, but also from Democrats. The judicial confirmation process fails nominees and needs reform. Pickering suggested a number of reforms in his books and Southwick's book is an exhibit for the pressing need to provide a reliable and fair (to both parties) mechanism to confirm or reject nominees.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Barbour cites Waller, Pickering as early signs of racial changes in Mississippi

From an opinion piece in today's USA Today, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour writes about how the South and Mississippi has changed regarding race relations, and notes the changes have been coming for a long time.

Mississippi today has more African-American elected officials than any other state, 1,075. The percentage of African Americans in our state registered to vote compared with the black voting-age population is 90.2%, compared with 62.1% in New York, and turnout among African Americans has exceeded that of whites in recent elections.

While these achievements occurred at a somewhat evolutionary pace, it is unrecognized that many white Southerners accepted them rather quickly.

After Medgar Evers was murdered 50 years ago, his killer, Byron De La Beckwith, was prosecuted by a young district attorney from Jackson, Bill Waller. When the first jury failed to reach a verdict, Waller tried Beckwith again. The second jury hung as well, and Beckwith was not convicted until the early 1990s.

Conventional wisdom held that Waller would be politically ostracized. Instead, Bill Waller was elected governor in 1971. His son, Bill Waller Jr., is currently chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court.

During the same period, Laurel, Miss., prosecutor Charles Pickering testified in the 1966 criminal trial against Sam Bowers, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the state. Pickering was soon elected to the state Senate, became Mississippi Republican Party chairman and served as a federal judge.

If Mississippi had not already begun to change those 40 years ago, these elections would not have resulted as they did. While evolutionary overall, political changes began in my state much sooner than is often recognized, and positive changes in other areas of race relations have continued apace.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pickeirng speaks to Forrest-Lamar Republican Women

Retired Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Charles Pickering spoke to the Forrest-Lamar Republican Women about the Constitution. WDAM reports:
He spoke about the history of the Constitution and its importance in our everyday lives. He also shared his concerns over some studies that show students aren't learning what they need to know about the Constitution and U.S. history. "The Roper organization did a study and found that the seniors from our 55 elite colleges and universities, so-called elite colleges and universities, that those seniors either made a D or an F about the history of our nation," Pickering said. "Thomas Jefferson said that if we expect to be ignorant and free, we expect what never has been and never will be. Our people show an alarming lack of knowledge about our past and that is a dangerous signal," he said.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Constitution once amended frequently

Writing about the recent official notification of the ratification of the 13th Amendment by Mississippi, this column quotes from A Price Too High to note that once the Constitution was frequently amended.
Today we no longer seek actual war to determine the great issues that divide us as a country. In fact, we no longer seek actual amendments to the Constitution. Thirteen states on the left or the right can block any amendment. In "A Price Too High: The Judiciary in Jeopardy," former U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Charles Pickering of Laurel, Mississippi wrote, "The Constitution is not too sacred to amend, for the Founders created a process to do so. From the time the Constitution was adopted in 1788 until 1971, the Constitution was amended twenty-six times...The twenty-six amendments adopted between 1789 and 1971, constitute an average of one amendment every seven years. From 1933 until 1971, we amended the Constitution seven times, an average of one amendment every five years. No amendment proposed since 1971-during the thirty-five years since the living mystery Constitution became a prevailing legal theory-has been adopted."