Judge Leslie Southwick was nominated as a federal judge and lives to tell about it.
At least, that’s what he said Monday, Sept. 14, at a luncheon hosted by Regent University’s chapter of the Federalist Society, where he took School of Law students and faculty through the steps on his occupational road less traveled.
It happened, as it does with any federal judge nomination: clearing a list of hurdles including selections, questions, presidential selections, waiting and even FBI investigations.
“And a whole lot of luck,” added Southwick.
It’s a process he’s written about in his book, The Nominee: A Political and Spiritual Journey; what he expresses feeling like a character from the Pixar-animated film, Toy Story.
“We were all waiting to see who ‘Andy’ would pick to take off the shelf next,” said Southwick with a laugh.
Tessa Dysart, assistant School of Law professor, formerly worked as a counsel in the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice on vetting judicial nominees and assisting them through the confirmation process. One of the nominees whose nomination she worked on was Southwick’s.
“I wanted the students to hear Judge Southwick’s story, not just to understand the confirmation process,” said Dysart. “But also to see the importance of civility, grace under pressure, and character, which are all qualities that Judge Southwick emulates.”
But Southwick’s story is a little more complicated and even, according to him, a bit “awkward” to talk about. Because when George W. Bush nominated Southwick to the federal appeals court, Fifth Circuit, he had no idea the controversy that would arise.
Just days before his hearing, a progressive advocacy group brought attention to two cases Southwick had been involved in at the state level: A case involving a racial slur spoken in a workplace, and a case regarding the custody of a child in a family with a father and a bisexual mother.
Despite the flurry of media attention and the general perception that he was being treated unfairly, Southwick explained that he tried to have faith.
He found solace in Habakkuk 3:17-18 which states, “Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines…”
“Still I will rejoice in the Lord,” recited Southwick. “This was very meaningful to me.”
And it was there, in that place of battling and questioning, that he learned to strike a balance between trusting the Lord and expecting a miracle. After a long journey, he received surprising support from a Democrat senator, and thus enough votes to receive his confirmation.
He continues to talk about his story, and encourages those he meets on his path today.
“Keep your priorities straight. Be willing to take chances and leave your comfort zones,” said Southwick. “At the same time, avoid being rash – follow your dreams very carefully, and think about your options if your pursuit fails.”
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