Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, had some choice words for the U.S. Senate — and for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in particular — after today’s 59-38 vote to confirm Judge Leslie Southwick to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Feinstein was one of nine Democrats voting “yea.”
“I am appalled that the Senate would confirm to the Fifth Circuit someone who thinks that it is EVER acceptable for one person to refer to another using the ‘n-word.’
“The fact is that the Fifth Circuit has the highest percentage of minority residents of any other circuit, yet ALL of the nominees over the last 22 years have been white. In fact, there is only one black member of the court and he is only the second since the court was created in 1869.
“The recent case in Jena, Louisiana shows the racism in the criminal justice system within the jurisdiction of the Fifth Circuit.
“The case in Jena makes it clear why we cannot afford to send anyone less than a civil rights champion to serve on this court, let alone someone with a record of hostility towards civil rights, someone who thinks that it is acceptable for someone to refer to someone else using the ‘n-word.’
“I believe that we have come too far from the days of Jim Crow to tolerate the type of racist miscarriage of justice that we have seen in Jena, and in the record of Judge Southwick.
“If we are ever to overcome the tragic legacy of racism in this nation, we have a duty to our young people to see to it that the principle of equal justice is upheld. If we truly believe in our nation’s principle of equality before the law, then we have to make sure that everyone, regardless of race, is held equal before the law.
“Let me also say that as a Californian and as an African American, I am incredibly disappointed that a Senator from my home state, Senator Feinstein, would not only vote for confirmation but would be the one to effectively bring this nomination to the floor by voting with the Republicans to approve the nomination in committee. It is particularly disappointing given California’s diversity and our history of leadership on issues of civil rights, women’s rights, worker’s rights and the basic commitment to equality before the law, all areas where Judge Southwick’s record is, quite frankly, sadly lacking.”
But Feinstein gave a lengthy explanation of her vote on the Senate floor yesterday, saying she believes “based on the letter he wrote to me, on my discussions with him, and on his record, he is not outside of the judicial mainstream. That is the primary criterion I use when evaluating an appellate nominee, and I expect future nominees of Democratic Presidents to be treated in the same way. I believe the concerns that have been raised about Judge Southwick are outweighed by his record of service to our country, his long experience as an appellate court judge, and the temperament I have come to know in my discussions with him.”