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Senate Approves Southwick Nomination

Leslie Southwick’s controversial nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was approved by the Senate Wednesday, 59-38, shortly after a bipartisan group of Senators narrowly surpassed a critical 60-vote threshold to avert a filibuster.

The 62-35 vote on the key procedural motion all but assured Southwick’s confirmation to the federal appellate bench, as the vote on final passage only required a simple majority.

By declining to filibuster Southwick, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said the vote helped the Senate duck “serious consequences” for the future of the institution. He said Republicans would have surely reacted to a filibuster by bottling up any future Democratic president’s judicial nominees, saying the Senate avoided “gamesmanship, particularly for the next president, that would have been unseemly and inappropriate for the Senate.”

Southwick’s backers have been working for weeks to rally the 60 votes they needed to advance his nomination to a lifetime appointment on the 5th Circuit bench. The lobbying effort came amid much opposition, especially from Democrats and minority organizations, which have raised serious concerns about Southwick’s record on civil and human rights. They also fear Southwick does little to add diversity to the New Orleans-based court.

But recent offers by a bipartisan group of Senators — led by Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) — to help Democrats clear their outstanding spending bills before the end of the year, helped corral enough votes to press forward. Also not to be discounted was the role of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who opposes Southwick’s nomination but kept his party’s rhetoric to a minimum.

By agreeing to move Southwick through the Senate, the chamber may have averted a remake of the previous Congress’ partisan battle over President Bush’s stalled judicial nominations. That duel led to a showdown between the parties and prompted a bipartisan group of 14 Senators to come together to broker a deal that allowed for votes on several contentious nominees in exchange for keeping the minority’s right to filibuster intact.