Republican Members Of The Senate Hold A News Conference On The Confirmation Of Leslie Southwick To The U.S. Court Of Appeals
October 24, 2007
SPEAKERS: SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.,
SENATE MINORITY LEADER
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, R-MISS.,
SENATE MINORITY WHIP
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS,
VICE CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE
SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN, R-MISS.
SEN. ORRIN G. HATCH, R-UTAH
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-KAN.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CALIF.
MCCONNELL: Good morning, everyone.
I just want to make the following observation about the significance of the vote that we just had with regard to the Senate as an institution.
I don’t have to remind any of you who have been covering the Senate the last few years that we’ve had some contentious judicial battles surrounding circuit court nominees.
Many members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle have felt that they were too contentious, and there’s been a significant bipartisan effort, led by a number of these senators behind me, to keep the Senate from sort of getting to a meltdown point on the confirmation of circuit judges.
Put in that context, I think the success of the cloture vote on Judge Southwick is extremely significant, not only for him and for the 5th Circuit, which has not been able to fill the seat for the entire Bush administration, but for the Senate as an institution.
And if you look at the way it unfolded, it was similar to the Alito nomination. In other words, cloture was used not to stop the nomination, but to advance the nomination.
That’s the way Senator Lott operated when he was majority leader. I can recall two controversial, very liberal judges that were nominated by President Clinton that he recommended to us, to our conference, and I followed his advice to vote for cloture, even though I did not support the nomination once we got to an up-or-down vote.
So this is, from an institutional point of view, an extremely significant event that will ultimately prove to be important to both sides, no matter who’s in the White House a year and a half from now.
With that, I want to I think first call on whoever’d like to go next.
Mr. Chairman — or, Mr. Ranking Member — why don’t you go next and then we’ll work our way down.
SPECTER: Senator — our leader, Senator McConnell, has said it all, but as the saying goes, that won’t stop the rest of us from repeating it.
It is a very significant vote. We had — we’ve had a very contentious time going back two decades, to the last two years of President Reagan’s term, the last two of President George H.W. Bush. During the Clinton administration there was regrettable reciprocity and we came very close to destroying one of the fundamental principles of the Senate, unlimited debate, with the so-called nuclear or constitutional option, and we worked through that.
But this is very significant. It’s a real mark of bipartisanship to get 62 senators to vote for cloture. That counts to 13 Democrats. And I begin by thanking the 13 Democrats, and especially Senator Dianne Feinstein, who provided the critical vote, a real profile in courage in committee.
Without Senator Feinstein’s vote, we would not have gotten to cloture vote. And I think it is a very significant sign for the American people who are sick and tired of the bickering and the partisanship. And this is a big step on a new page.
This may be out of precedent, without calling on the home state senators, but if I may, with the concurrence of the home state senators, yield to the heroine, the lady of the day, Senator Feinstein.
FEINSTEIN: I don’t know about this heroine business. But all I can tell you is the way I look at it. This seat has been vacant for seven years. This is the third nominee. He has been 11 years an appellate court judge — a state appellate judge. He has sat on 7,000 appeals. The ABA ranks him, unanimously, well-qualified.
His 10th year, the Mississippi Bar Association gave him an award. As a 53-year-old man, he volunteered to go to Iraq. He went to Iraq as a judge advocate for one year in a forward operating base.
That shows you a little bit about character. You know his background.
Now, the question is: Is he not a person inclined to protect civil rights? For some, is he a racist?
And I looked very carefully at it. And that’s why I spent time with him personally. And I really came to the conclusion he’s none of the above. He is a through and through appellate court judge.
And appellate court judges are different from trial judges. They don’t have the plaintiffs in front of them. They don’t have the factual trial. They have the briefs and they have the law, and that’s what they reconcile.
Did this for another reason, too. In this body, what goes around, comes around. And I’ve been on the committee for 15 years, and I’ve watched it go around and come around.
And it’s got to end. And somebody has to be part of an effort to step forward and try and see if that can happen.
I believe it can happen. I also believe we’re going to have another president, perhaps a Democratic president, and we want that person to have an opportunity to present their nominees.
For me, it’s not important that I agree with the nominee on everything. What is important to me is that that nominee is in the mainstream of legal thinking in this country.
And I very much believe that this judge is.
LOTT: My heart is really filled with gratitude and admiration at this moment. Gratitude for the fact that Senator Reid allowed this nomination to be called up when he did. Gratitude to Senator McConnell for his very strong and consistent determination that this nominee was going to get an up-and-down vote.
LOTT: Gratitude to Senator Specter for the job he has done beyond the normal call of duty as the ranking member. I mean, he really has gone the extra mile, intimately involved in trying to get this nomination to a vote.
And admiration for so many people, including Senator Feinstein. I’ve always thought that I might write one more book and that I would entitle it, “It’s Called Leadership.” And in this book, I’d have 20 chapters about members of the House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, liberal, conservative, moderate, that I have observed over my last 35 years in Congress that exhibited courage and leadership.
And the chapters will include people like John McCain and Phil Gramm, but also Ted Kennedy and Charlie Rangel. Some events that I experienced and I watched those men and women, because there are women
that are going to be in this, too, that really took a chance, showed courage, did the right thing; not just for their states or their districts, but for their country.
One of those chapters will have to be written about Dianne Feinstein, because she took a tough stand and she showed a lot of courage.
So, this is — you know, it’s emotional for me. Because this is a good man. He’ll make a great judge. And on behalf of my state, which I feel has been maligned in this and other instances, we appreciate you.
COCHRAN: I’m pleased to be here among such outstanding senators to respond to whatever questions you may have of us. I am deeply grateful to the members of the Senate who’ve shown the courage and have voted to first cut off debate and then confirm a very fine man to serve on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
COCHRAN: He is a person of integrity, of good judgment. He’s a kind-hearted man. He, I think, will reflect a great deal of credit on our state of Mississippi, as he serves as a judge on the Fifth Circuit.
He’s done that throughout his career. And I’ve known him since he came to Mississippi from Texas, and, again, practicing law in our state, providing leadership, getting involved politically in our state.
He has already contributed a great deal, as a professor of law and as a good citizen, a person who cares about making sure that fairness prevails and our state contributes all it can to the strength of our country.
And to protect the security interests of our country, he offered and volunteered to personally be involved in Iraq, to help us achieve success there.
So, for those and other personal reasons, I’m very deeply grateful to the Senate for confirming Leslie Southwick as a judge on the Court of Appeals.
And I thank all of my colleagues for the hard work and seriousness of purpose with which they went about discharging their duties as U.S. senators. It’s made me proud to serve with them and to be a member of the United States Senate.
SPECTER: Senator Hatch?
HATCH: Well, I personally want to thank all of those Democrats who voted with all of us to do justice in this matter, because I’ve been here only 31 years and I have to say that Judge Southwick is one of the best nominees I’ve ever seen.
And I want to congratulate the two senator from Mississippi, two stalwarts, two giants here in the Senate who have stood behind this man and never gave up.
HATCH: And, of course, the minority leader as well. I don’t think this could have happened without the leadership of Senator Specter, who has done a terrific job on the Judiciary Committee.
And it certainly couldn’t have happened without the leadership of our friend, Dianne Feinstein. She is a person who I’ve always thought had an open mind and who really looks at things through the prism of
doing justice and doing what’s right. And this is a situation where it was pathetic that this man has had to wait this long and that this seat has been vacant this long.
I predict that Judge Southwick will become one of the great circuit court of appeals judges and that he’ll make all of us proud, and that he’ll do what he should do, and that is make decisions based upon the law.
And, frankly, that’s what he’s done in the past and I believe that’s what he’ll do in the future.
And I want to congratulate our fellow senators from Mississippi. They’re two great people. And Dianne Feinstein and the others that I’ve mentioned — and just say that this is a really, really good thing, that we’ve had this bipartisan confirmation that means to much to me.
SPECTER: Senator Graham?
GRAHAM: Well, I hate that she’s leaving, because I was going to say nice things about her. But Dianne Feinstein prevented the Senate from going into a downward spiral again on judges, and I don’t know if
we would have ever pulled out of it.
It took a lot of courage for her to do what she did in committee. And I think over time she will be seen as one of the heroes of the Senate.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate all the hard work on your part.
The idea that — the politics that led to questioning Judge Southwick’s ability to be promoted as a judge needs to stop.
GRAHAM: They’re going to ruin the judiciary. I mean, you cannot asked for a more qualified candidate, a better person to want to serve in the federal judiciary than Judge Southwick, and look what he had to
If we keep doing this, you’re going to take people like Judge Southwick in the future and say, “I don’t want to go through this. I don’t want to put my family through it.”
And the bad news is that of the 35 who voted to stop this man from getting up or down vote, two of them are running for president. Two of them are major candidates for president.
And be very aware of what you’re doing here. By casting that vote, you’re legitimizing a form of politics that’s going to hurt the judiciary’s independence and its quality and you’re interjecting politics into the Senate in a way that’s never been here before, when it comes to judges. And this may be a vote pleasing to the base, but it’s not a vote that’s going to uplift the country, it’s not a vote that’s going to build a strong, independent judiciary and it’s a vote that would tear the Senate apart in the future.
So, I hope people will reevaluate what they want to have happen in this country when it comes to nominating judges. And I’m very proud of our Democratic friends who avoided a catastrophe for this country — a catastrophic event. Because of this man had not gotten up or down vote, the Senate would have come to a halt, rightfully so.
SPECTER: Senator Brownback?
BROWNBACK: Thanks, everyone.
I’m not running for president.
But I do want to congratulate Judge Southwick — great guy. And he held in there — persisted the process.
Let me congratulate the Senate for actually doing its advice and consent role today and getting that done, and my colleagues, particularly from Mississippi, who’ve worked a long time to get this done. I hope that people that will benefit from his being on the circuit recognize that this didn’t just happen; there was a lot of
Arlen certainly did his part. And a number of Democrats were willing to reach across the aisle. I think that’s what we got to see more of, is just a senior leadership being willing to step up and to say, “This is the right thing to do. It may not be the politically right thing to do at this moment, but it is the right thing to do at
this moment and we’re going to do what’s right.”
And I’m glad that a number of people on the Democrat side were actually willing to do that — congratulate him in the process.
SPECTER: OK. Any questions?
QUESTION: How much do you think — how many lessons do you think we’re learning from 2005, with the potential shutdown of the Senate over judicial nominations?
How was that reflected in this vote?
Do you think that there was a level of understanding among Democrats that, as you were making appeals to them to vote on cloture, that they were reflecting back on that time?
SPECTER: I think there was a considerable amount of concern that we would revert to the gridlock which we had in 2005. But I think the overarching issue was the man himself.
Judge Southwick is a very well-qualified individual. And when you take 6,000 decisions and 950 opinions, and the critics coming up with two items which were perhaps slight insensitivity or some insensitivity but no real problem, and he didn’t write the opinions; he gave concurrences.
And going to Iraq — when you take a look at the quality of this man, it was just impossible to say that he wasn’t qualified.
The big part of the arguments that his opponents made was the background of the seat and collateral circumstances involving other people. But he had very strong backing from African-Americans. And
his record on the bench showed great concern for plaintiffs in personal injury cases, for criminal defendants.
So the man was very, very dominant. And then it was, sort of, a sense of let’s not do an injustice to this individual, which can cause a lot of problems to the institution.
LOTT: I can’t add to that, but I would like to just repeat again, I think the key here was the caliber of the nominee.
LOTT: And those members — Republicans, but Democrats, also, that took the time to actually meet with him and get to know him and ask him some questions, including this very morning. Two Democrat senators met with the nominee at 7:30 this morning, and another one at 9:00. They both determined that they would vote, you know, for cloture, to keep this from being filibustered.
Having said that, I do think that there were a number of Democrats from my conversations with them — and Senator Cochran and I spent a lot of time talking to them, one on one — sensed that this was a critical moment, that if we filibustered or defeated cloture on this nominee and did not allow him to get an up-or-down vote, it would have bad consequences again for the institution and for our future and our relationships and how we deal with these federal judges.
So I do think a number of those dozen or so Democrats plus Joe Lieberman that we got, this was a factor that did come into play.
I think maybe — just maybe — and I’ve said this last night on the floor — this is a small step that could lead, I hope, to a major leap toward more civility around here, and dealing with some issues, you know, without partisanship.
Maybe I’m overestimating it. but it is an important event, and I’m glad we did the right thing.
SPECTER: Well, there are other nominees in the queue, in the channel. And I have not heard a specific objections, except to really slow down the pace, to keep some vacancies in the event there’s a president of another party.
SPECTER: And we’re going to keep pushing them. Because I’ve said, publicly, the White House has not been as prompt as we’d like on submitting nominations.
So, at a time when you have less than a year and a half, you have to expect a slow down and we’re experiencing it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Senator Lott, could I ask you to comment on this federal government’s response to the fires in California? Have you been satisfied so far that the response has been a good one, that there had been lessons learned from Katrina and the like?
LOTT: Well, I…
QUESTION: Could I also add — Senator Reid has been saying that the administration has not put up enough money for fire prevention and I wonder if you could…
LOTT: Well, I don’t know that I can answer some of that. But I believe that lessons were learned from Hurricane Katrina. I want to be quick to say that, you know, in my state, we feel like while it hadn’t been perfect, and I’ve complained loudly some time about FEMA– a lot has been done for our state.
The federal assistance — we just could not recover without it. Senator Cochran’s leadership on the appropriations committee and our GO Zone Tax Bill out of the Financial Committee made a huge
But still, we learn that there are things you need to do — communications systems and how quickly you move. And I noticed this morning, Secretary Chertoff is out in California and the head of FEMA,
Paulson, I believe, is out there, too. And the president is having a meeting today to make sure that everything is being done.
So, I felt like, you know, the administration responded quickly. But some time, the agencies didn’t respond quickly enough. We learned some lessons. From what I see happening, long distance – just looking at the media — it looks to me like the administration is responding aggressively and appropriately in trying to help the people in California with this fire.
Thank you very much.
Senator Trent Lott’s Office