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Feinstein helps advance court nominee

WASHINGTON (BP)–One of President Bush’s embattled judicial nominees has escaped the Senate Judiciary Committee because a Democrat switched sides.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., joined the nine Republicans on the committee Aug. 2 to forward the nomination of Leslie Southwick to the full Senate. Bush nominated Southwick to fill a vacancy on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Fifth Circuit, which is based in New Orleans, consists of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

After the panel’s 10-9 vote, the White House issued a statement describing the action as “a refreshing victory for America’s judicial system.”

Southwick is the latest in a series of nominees to federal appeals courts whose confirmations have been blocked by Democrats either in the Judiciary Committee or through delaying tactics in the full Senate.

Democrats and liberal organizations have said they are opposed to Southwick’s confirmation based on his agreement with two written opinions as a member of the Mississippi Court of Appeals, according to The Hill, a Washington newspaper.

One opinion Southwick signed onto awarded custody of an 8-year-old girl to her father instead of her bisexual mother. In the same case, he also joined in a concurring opinion that used the word “homosexuals” instead of “gays.” The other decision targeted by opponents was the court’s affirmation of the reinstatement of a white state worker who had used a racial epithet, The Hill reported.

“If I believed he was racist, I wouldn’t vote for him. But I don’t,” Feinstein said before the committee’s vote, according to Citizenlink.com “I truly believe the concerns outlined about Judge Southwick are outweighed by his service to the country, by the many cases he sat on.”

Some liberals criticized Feinstein, as well as the committee.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee and Senator Feinstein have advanced” Southwick’s nomination, said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way. “That’s not what Americans voted for when they gave Democrats a majority in the Senate.”

Pro-family advocates and conservatives applauded the panel’s vote.

Feinstein “deserves credit for honesty and decency,” said Wendy Long, counsel of the Judicial Confirmation Network, in a weblog on National Review Online. “[H]er support for him is a resounding repudiation of both the misrepresentations about Southwick personally, and of the Democrat tactics of obstructing fair and impartial judges.”

Southwick, 57, is a visiting professor at the Mississippi College School of Law. He took a leave of absence from the Mississippi Court of Appeals to serve on active duty with the Mississippi National Guard in Iraq from August 2004 to January 2006. During that time, he served as a judge advocate.

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