By David Tisdale
Judge Leslie Southwick made his case to fellow members of the legal community to be ever
mindful of the duality of their duty to the law and to God in his remarks as guest speaker for the
annual Red Mass Oct. 15 at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Biloxi.
The Red Mass is a special, historic service dating back to the 1300s recognizing and conferring
blessings on members of the legal community – lawyers, judges, legal scholars, law students
and lawmakers, among others. It is typically held just prior to the beginning of a new judicial
year; members of the legal community regardless of their religious affiliation are welcome.
Prayers offered during the Red Mass, so called by the wearing of red vestments symbolizing the
tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit, request the guidance and intercession of the Holy Spirit in the
arena of law. Bishop Louis Kihneman celebrated the Mass and presented the homily.
“It is a joy for me to pray over our whole judicial system today,” Bishop Kihneman said. “And so,
I am praying specifically for everyone here in the church, in a very special way.
“And it’s also a joy to celebrate this moment, because this moment was given to us by Jesus
himself and he gave us this moment to say to us, ‘I want to be with you, I want you to be able
keep your eyes on me’ especially in this moment, where we have the proclamation of the word,
we come together as a community of faith, the body of Christ.
“But when he gives us, gives us himself in his body and blood, because Heaven and Earth meet
right here – we get to share in the wedding banquet of Heaven each time we celebrate this
moment…it is truly a life changing moment for all of us.”
A native of Texas, Judge Southwick is a circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit. He previously served on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, and worked in private practice
in Jackson, Mississippi. A military veteran, he has served in both the Mississippi Army Reserve
and Mississippi National Guard, including during Iraqi Freedom; he holds the rank of lieutenant
colonel. He is an adjunct professor at the Mississippi College School of Law.
In his talk, Judge Southwick urged his audience to lean on their faith as they go about their work
while also understanding the duality of obedience to God and to the laws of their country, those
laws central to the work of those in the legal profession, or as elected or appointed figures in the
Judge Southwick pointed to a hallmark quote from Saint Thomas More, who he counts as a
hero and remembers fondly from his youth watching the movie “A Man for All Seasons” that
depicts Saint More’s life and when, as he was put to death, said “I am the king’s good servant,
but God’s servant first.” Saint More, who was a prominent English politician, later opposed the
Protestant Reformation and refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy recognizing the king as
head of the church. He was executed on what were considered false charges of treason; Judge
Southwick noted him as a key figure referenced at Red Masses through the centuries.
In keeping with idea of being true to one’s faith, Judge Southwick also recounted highlights of a
speech he heard in 1996 by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who like himself
was a fellow Catholic, given at First Baptist Church in Jackson, in which he urged Christians to
stand steadfast in their faith against ridicule by secularists in a presentation themed “The
ridicule and rejection a Christian must be willing to face in order to live their faith in the modern
“He urged Christians to not be ashamed of being Christian, and that we must pray for the
courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world,” Judge Southwick recalled of Judge
Scalia’s comments. “He said, ‘We must be fools for Christ’s sake.’”
“We can be sophisticated and believe in God; reason and intellect are not to be laid aside just
because religion is being discussed,” Judge Southwick further noted. “What is irrational is to
reject the possibility of miracles and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
In commenting on his own duties as a federal judge and a Christian, he said that his duties are
to God and country, and that as a federally appointed official, “my duty as a judge is to follow the
“Not all things that are sins are crimes, and not all things the Catholic Church embraces are
protected by the Constitution,” he continued. “With that mix, I need to follow the law and do the
best I can.”
In further reference to the disdain held by secularists for Christians, he took special note of the
term often used as an insult – Cretin – to mean someone with marked mental deficiency, derived
from the French to refer to Christians as feeble minded. “That is a view taken in our modern
society,” he continued.
But the nation’s founding fathers, including George Washington, often said publicly that America
was a country founded with an embrace of belief in a higher power.
“Early on, our leaders spoke openly of religion,” he said. “Religion and morality were considered
indispensable. Can this still be said, in 2023? Is it still our foundation?” but then taking some
solace when he said, “It’s almost comforting to know that the old truths have long been under
attack and have still stood.”
In his own endorsement of the admonishment that Christians “Trust in the Lord with all your
heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5-6), Judge Southwick pointed to
his own long journey to the high court, saying “I now see God’s love and direction in the delay,
the detours, the disappointment” when he was referred in 2007 for consideration by the full U.S.
Senate for his appointment to the Fifth Circuit Court after a narrow vote by the U.S. Senate
Judiciary Committee, in which a lone liberal Democrat – the late Diane Feinstein – joined with
the committee’s Republican Majority in clearing his path.
An intense meeting between the two preceded the vote, in which Sen. Feinstein grilled Judge
Southwick on his positions on multiple hot-button issues that could potentially come before him
in court. Two of Judge Southwick’s predecessor nominees by then President George W. Bush to
the post had note fared well, with Judge Charles Pickering and Judge Michael Wallace getting
fierce opposition from Senate Democrats.
“Those two (Pickering and Wallace) had been savaged [politically] after two White House
nominations, after which they asked if I would take it,” further noting, with humor, that “I wanted
God to give me a more attractive position.”
Judge Southwick left his meeting with Sen. Feinstein unsure of how she would ultimately cast
her vote, as other Democrats like her expressed concern about an alleged conservative bias –
like the fight over the previous nominees – if he was appointed.
But Judge Southwick was not without hope.
“I took what he [God] gave, which is why I am inspired by that scripture verse ‘Lean not on your
own understanding, and he will make your path straight.’ Trust in the Lord and expect a miracle,
and I think I got one.”
In his concluding remarks, Judge Southwick reminded his audience that “We have many
responsibilities, all of us, whether we be lawyers or judges, or in some other role in life – we
have many responsibilities.
“We must be God’s good servant, wherever we are.”