If "too conservative" is reason enough for Democratic senators to block a floor vote on Southwick, who is no right-wing culture warrior, then "too liberal" will be reason enough for Senate Republicans to do the same when the shoe is on the other foot.
The long-term cost to the country is that bit by bit, almost imperceptibly, more and more of the people who would make the best judges—liberal and conservative alike—are less and less willing to put themselves through the ever-longer, ever-more-harrowing gantlet that the confirmation process has become.
Of course, liberal groups and Senate Democrats don't admit to opposing Southwick simply for being conservative. But their detailed complaints boil down to just that, as do scurrilous insinuations that Southwick is a bigot—insinuations denounced by, among others, his former law clerk La'Verne Edney, an African-American. "It is unfortunate," she has written, that "there are some that have made him the chosen sacrifice to promote their agenda." Some astute Democratic thinkers privately agree.
The far-from-conservative American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously found Southwick, 57, to be "well qualified" (the highest rating) for the 5th Circuit. He served on Mississippi's intermediate appellate court from 1995 to 2006, was an adjunct professor at the Mississippi College School of Law for a decade, was in private law practice for 12 years, served in the Justice Department from 1989 to 1993 under the first President Bush, and has done volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity. The Mississippi State Bar chose Southwick in 2004 for its annual Judicial Excellence Award, as "a leader in advancing the quality and efficiency of justice, and a person of high ideals, character, and integrity." He wins high praise from Democrats, African-Americans, and others who know him.
Southwick also wears a distinctive badge of courageous service to his country. After joining the Army Reserve in 1992, at age 42, he volunteered in 2003 to transfer into a Mississippi National Guard combat unit that would soon be sent overseas.
He was on active duty in Iraq (and on leave from his judgeship) from August 2004 to January 2006.
So it was not surprising that Southwick's nomination to a federal District Court seat won unanimous, bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee approval late last year. After the 109th Congress ended without a floor vote on his nomination, President Bush named Southwick to fill a vacancy on the 5th Circuit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy told Republican colleagues that they expected committee approval and a floor vote within a few months.
Then began the attacks by liberal interest groups, and the same Judiciary Committee Democrats who had voted to confirm Southwick last year got cold feet. People for the American Way and the Human Rights Campaign led the charge. Their joint May 8 letter to the Judiciary Committee accused Southwick of "highly disturbing" votes and "a problematic record on civil rights" lacking the requisite "commitment to social justice progress." The Congressional Black Caucus objected especially to the nominee's whiteness, as to that of Bush's nine other judicial nominees in 37 percent black Mississippi. The New York Times denounced Southwick for "a disturbing history of insensitivity to blacks and other minority groups."