Three prominent statewide Black organizations are asking U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith to reconsider her decision to block the confirmation of Columbus District Attorney Scott Colom as a federal judge for the Northern District of Mississippi.
The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, state chapter of the NAACP and the Magnolia Bar Association, which is an organization of more than 100 African American lawyers across the state, have sent letters to the state’s junior U.S. senator touting Colom’s qualifications and his bipartisan support.
“He is a successful and well-respected member of the legal profession,” said a letter from Monica McNeely, president of the Magnolia Bar, one of the oldest Black bar associations in the country.
“Attorney Colom’s range of legal experience, his reputation for professionalism and integrity and his record of community engagement demonstrates his qualifications for service on the United States District Court.”
Colom was nominated in October by President Joe Biden to replace Judge Mike Mills who is stepping down from full-time service on the federal judiciary.
The Magnolia Bar, Legislative Black Caucus and state chapter of the NAACP all wrote separate letters to Hyde-Smith expressing their disappointment in blocking his confirmation and asking to meet with her to discuss the issue.
The blue slip process allows home-state senators of nominees to block their Senate confirmation, though Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, is being urged to abandon the process. Many past judiciary chairs have not used the blue slip process as an absolute in blocking nominees from being considered in the Senate. Durbin has called Colom highly qualified.
Hyde-Smith’s office did not respond to questions from Mississippi Today on whether she might reconsider her decision to block Colom’s confirmation process. She has said she opposes Colom’s nomination because his campaign was helped financially by progressive groups and because of his stance on trans issues.
In a letter from the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, who chairs the group, wrote that the refusal to confirm a qualified Black attorney like Colom would send the wrong message to Black professionals.
“We are concerned that your decision to deny Mr. Colom even a hearing with his record of service would send a signal to other young Black lawyers that Mississippi will not promote lawyers to prestigious positions on the federal bench and discourage them from moving back home, especially to small, rural towns like Columbus,” said the letter from the Black Caucus, which consists of 53 members of the Mississippi Legislature.
Robert Jones, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, wrote of the bipartisan support for Colom, who was nominated for the post by a Democratic president. The letter pointed out that Republican Roger Wicker, the state’s senior U.S. senator, had said he would not block Colom’s confirmation process and that Republican U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly of Lee County, who represents a large portion of the area Colom serves as district attorney in northeast Mississippi, “has consistently supported Mr. Colom’s nomination.”
The letters also cited endorsements from at least nine law enforcement leaders in Colom’s district.
“Recently, even former Republican governors Phil Bryant and Haley Barbour have publicly supported Mr. Colom’s nomination, with Gov. Bryant saying ‘Scott Colom possesses the discernment to be a fair and exemplary judge,’” said the letter from the NAACP, which boasts more than 11,000 members in Mississippi.
The groups pointed out that as district attorney Colom had personally tried 26 criminal cases and obtained 24 guilty verdicts.
“We understand Mr. Colom may not be a nominee you feel that you could vote for but to deny him even a hearing, when he has the support of the senior senator, sets a bad precedent and isn’t good for our state,” the NAACP letter read.
In a statement earlier this month, Hyde-Smith cited a concern about Colom’s “opposition to legislation to protect female athletes.”
While Colom has voiced general support for trans rights, he has never publicly commented on the issue of trans women competing in women sports. Hyde-Smith seems to be referring to a letter Colom signed condemning the criminalization of gender-affirming care, rejecting the prosecution of the families of transgender individuals seeking treatment to help them transition.
Hyde-Smith also said she opposed Colom because a political action committee funded at least in part by billionaire George Soros spent funds on his first election to the office of district attorney in 2015. Soros, a New York billionaire, has supported criminal justice reform and other issues such as governmental transparency.
Colom did not receive any financial help from Soros in 2019.
Colom is the first Black elected as district attorney in the 16th District and, according to the letters the first African American elected to the post of district attorney from a white majority district.
Correction 4/20/23: This story originally misidentified U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly. The error has been corrected.