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Mississippi’s Southwick on...

Mississippi’s Southwick on three-judge panel ruling on the law, not partisan politics

By: Sid Salter - November 22, 2023

Sid Salter

Columnist Sid Salter says the fact that Judge Leslie Southwick follows the law regardless of partisan political impact should be of no real surprise to Mississippians.

Writing about another case earlier this year, readers will remember encountering the name of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James C. Ho of Texas. Ho filed a dissent from a majority ruling on the appeal of a 2014 Mississippi election scandal that resulted in a Madison County attorney taking his own life – arguing that the dispute was a First Amendment matter. 

Ho, nominated to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump in 2017, was included on the short list of Supreme Court nominees in 2020 when Trump named current Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the nation’s highest court.  

Ho’s friends and supporters tout his controversial rulings and writings as intellectual engagement with relevant ideas. Opponents accuse Ho of seeking to maintain a strong position on a short list of potential Supreme Court nominees should Trump be re-elected to the White House in 2024. 

The latest case that thrust Judge Ho into the headlines is one involving Louisiana’s congressional districts and what critics say is an obvious ploy to keep Louisiana Republicans in power. The long-running legal challenge by voting rights plaintiffs alleges that Louisiana’s congressional districts were drawn as a racist gerrymander resulting in only one majority-Black district. 

In 2022, a federal trial court ruled in favor of the voting rights plaintiffs in the case known as Robinson v. Ardoin and held that “the appropriate remedy in this context is a remedial congressional redistricting plan that includes an additional majority-Black congressional district.” A second majority-Black congressional district would almost certainly elect a Democrat to office. 

Before the trial court’s order took effect, the Supreme Court intervened in the order’s enforcement until the high court ruled in a similar case on similar issues in Alabama in the Allen v. Milligan case – another case alleging racial gerrymandering in congressional districting. 

In June, the Supreme Court ruled the Alabama congressional districting maps invalid and ordered a new map drawn to create a second majority Black district – and lifted the prior hold on the Robinson v. Ardoin case in Louisiana. The Louisiana trial judge set a new trial date in that case for Oct. 3.  

Inexplicably, Judge Ho and Judge Edith Jones issued an order to the trial court to cancel the scheduled Oct. 3 hearing in a delaying action that relied on a writ of mandamus – which many legal scholars questioned as not remotely applicable in the Robinson case. However, critics believed Ho and Jones sought to delay the process long enough for Louisiana’s existing maps to be used for the 2024 elections. 

The perceived attempt by Ho and Jones to delay the case was seen as particularly bizarre given the fact that a different three-judge panel from their same 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was already scheduled to review the case to determine if the trial court correctly decided the matter. 

That three-judge panel included Judge Carolyn King of Texas, Judge Jennifer Elrod of Texas, and Judge Leslie Southwick of Mississippi ruled exactly that. Legal analysts still see paths for the Robinson case to be delayed by Louisiana state officials to give the Louisiana Legislature sufficient time to draw new congressional lines that are not in conflict with racial gerrymandering laws. 

The fact that Southwick, nominated to the court by former President George W. Bush, voted to follow the law regardless of partisan political impact should be of no real surprise to Mississippians. Southwick literally walked across Mississippi during a state judicial campaign built on the notion of fair and honest enforcement of the law. 

But the Fifth Circuit is now America’s most conservative court and Trump appointed six of the current judges out of 17 active judges and nine senior status judges. With Trump still leading Republican presidential primary opinion polls heading into the 2024 election cycle, the “Trumpiest Court in America” will continue to draw attention from Republicans and Democrats alike.  

About the Author(s)
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Sid Salter

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications at Mississippi State University. Sid is a member of the Mississippi Press Association's Hall of Fame. His syndicated columns have been published in Mississippi and several national newspapers since 1978.