IMAGE: Judge Leslie Southwick
Judge Leslie Southwick's nomination to the federal appeals court has cleared the Senate's threshold for ending debate and can now proceed to a final roll call on confirmation.
updated 10/24/2007 11:43:32 AM ET 2007-10-24T15:43:32

Judge Leslie Southwick's nomination to a federal appeals court in Mississippi cleared a key hurdle in the Senate Wednesday and headed toward confirmation, despite questions during debate about his racial sensitivity.

The Senate's 62-35 test tally cleared the 60-vote threshold for ending debate and proceeding to a final roll call on confirmation.

The question of whether to send the law professor, judge and Iraq war veteran to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tested a fragile agreement in the Senate to block the president's judicial nominees only in extraordinary circumstances. Some Democratic opponents, backed by the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP Legal Defense fund and the AFL-CIO, said some of Southwick's writings met that standard. But Democrats said they did not have the votes to filibuster, or block, Southwick's nomination.

Southwick's supporters, who include Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the controversy wasn't so much about Southwick as it was about the fact that he is a white man nominated to sit on a court that handles cases in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.  "Judge Southwick is a qualified, sensitive and circumspect person," said Feinstein, who said the nominee was neither insensitive or a racist.

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Feinstein provided the winning vote for Southwick in the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, which approved his nomination on a 10-9 vote.

Republicans also are lined up solidly behind Southwick.

"If he was up for any other circuit, there would be no hesitancy," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. "This man ought to be judged on the basis of his own record and his own qualifications."

Republicans and Democrats have been fighting over this seat on the Fifth Circuit for years. Southwick was nominated by Bush in January to fill the slot that has been vacant on the panel since the completion of Judge Charles W. Pickering's recess appointment on Dec. 8, 2004.

Democrats successfully blocked Pickering's nomination for a permanent seat on the court before that recess appointed. A second nominee for the seat, Michael Wallace, withdrew his nomination after saying Democrats would likely not confirm him.

Southwick, currently an adjunct professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, served on the Mississippi Court of Appeals from 1995 until 2006. He previously served as a deputy assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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