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Kia Franklin

Alliance for Justice on the Southwick Confirmation

By now you've probably heard about the confirmation of Judge Leslie Southwick to the Fifth Circuit (despite his record littered with decisions that can be classified, at minimum, as potentially racist, homophobic, anti-consumer, and generally bad. Today on TortDeform.Com, we had the pleasure of a visit from Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice, who had the following to say about the confirmation:

Wednesday, the Senate voted to confirm Judge Leslie Southwick to a lifetime seat on the Fifth Circuit. Ignoring opposition from unions, consumer groups, civil rights proponents, GLBT organizations, and even the Congressional Black Caucus, twelve Democrats [Senators Akaka (HI), Byrd (WV), Carper (DE), Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Feinstein (CA), Inouye (HI), Johnson (SD), Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), and Salazar (CO)] and Senator Lieberman (CT) joined with every Republican senator in pushing the nomination forward to a confirmation vote. It was a sad day for many communities.

But undoubtedly, the biggest losers are the people of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

As a state court of appeals judge, Southwick voted against injured workers and consumers in the many divided employment and torts decisions 89 percent of the time and received the highest rating of any judge on the court from a business advocacy group. Again and again, when faced with claims by consumers and workers, Judge Southwick harshly interpreted laws and precedents to favor corporate defendants and other powerful interests.

In Cannon v. Mid-South X-Ray Co., he argued in a dissent that a woman who had no reason to know until years later that her significant medical problems were caused by toxic chemicals at work, should be barred by the statute of limitations from bringing suit for her damages. Southwick’s dissent is eerily similar to the majority in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions of this past term.

In Goode v. Synergy Corporation, Judge Southwick – again in dissent – argued that a family whose granddaughter was killed when their propane heater exploded should not be given a new trial despite new evidence showing that the company had provided false information about servicing the heater.

The list goes on. In General Motors v. Pegues, Judge Southwick wrote a dissent which would have overturned a unanimous jury verdict awarding Jimmy Pegues damages after a defective ball joint in his truck broke, causing his truck to veer off the road and crash. Pegues was unconscious for three weeks, spent extensive time in the hospital, and underwent fourteen surgeries, including the amputation of his leg. Judge Southwick argued that “there was no proof upon which the jury could rely that any negligence by the defendant contributed to the accident.”

Concerned about his record, Senator Durbin (D-IL) asked Judge Southwick in his hearing whether he could think of one example of an unpopular decision he made in favor of the powerless, the poor, minorities or the dispossessed, Judge Southwick responded, “no.”

Judge Southwick’s elevation to the federal bench is a disappointment but not a surprise. President Bush’s selection of such a nominee is consistent with his efforts to advance an anti-consumer, anti-worker agenda through the courts. If only the Senate had been strong enough to stand up to the Bush administration’s court-packing plan. For millions of Americans, the Fifth Circuit is the court of last resort, and with Leslie Southwick's confirmation, it is now tilted in a direction hostile to civil, worker and consumer rights for decades to come.

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Posted at 5:24 PM, Oct 26, 2007 in Civil Justice
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