Facing South

Wallace and the Southern war over the courts

The war over who will run the Southern courts continues to escalate. The latest flashpoint: President Bush's recent pick of Michael Wallace, Sen. Trent Lott's counsel in the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial, to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- a nominee the national ABA unanimously found to be "not qualified" for the job.

Jaribu Hill, president of the Magnolia Bar Association and a leading Mississippi human rights activist, lays out what's at stake in a recent editorial:

[A]s of October 2004, the president had a number of opportunities to appoint African-Americans to the federal judiciary in Southern states. In Louisiana, with a black population of 33 percent, Mr. Bush appointed six federal judges; not one was African-American. In South Carolina, which has a black population of 30 percent, the president appointed three judges; not one was African-American. The same message in Georgia: three appointments, none of them African-American.

Under this president, as of 2004, all seven of the judges appointed in Alabama were white. We agree with retired 6th U.S. Circuit Judge Nathaniel R. Jones of Ohio: This is "obscene" and "scandalous." [...]

Of the 17 judges who currently sit on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, only one is African-American. What is even more disgraceful is that Carl Stewart, appointed in 1994, is only the second African-American ever to sit on that court.

Wallace in particular is a major setback, Hill argues:

Aside from Mr. Bush's utter contempt to the notion of diversity, Wallace is the wrong person to sit on the 5th Circuit. In the 1980s, as an aide to then-Congressman Trent Lott, Wallace fought to protect the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, a segregationist institution where interracial dating was banned until 2000. As a member of the board of the Legal Services Corporation, which was established to provide legal services for the poor, Wallace voted to hire outside attorneys to lobby Congress to dismantle the agency.

Finally, as a policy adviser and lawyer, Wallace has consistently fought to destroy the Voting Rights Act which, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, is generally considered "the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress."

Recently, Wallace argued in the U.S. Supreme Court that Mississippi's only African-American majority congressional district should be eliminated and that Mississippians should elect their congressional members statewide, which would ensure that Mississippi's delegation would be an all-white one. Even the conservative Supreme Court rejected his position.

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