National Politics

Trump’s nomination of conservative Coast judge likely dead. Ted Cruz helped kill it.

The appointment of U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden of Gulfport to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals appears to be dead, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz being his most vocal opponent.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker strongly endorsed the son of a Turkish immigrant who distinguished himself in the military and has a reputation as a firm but fair federal judge for the Southern District of Mississippi.

But the committee this week for the fifth time delayed voting on Ozerden’s appointment, signaling the nomination is likely dead, Politico reported.

President Trump nominated Ozerden for the bench in June. The judge had strong backing from Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff and a groomsman in Ozerden’s 2003 wedding, Politico earlier reported. The online news outlet’s story said that others in the White House worried about the rate of reversals on appeal of rulings Ozerden has made during his 12 years on the federal bench.

Trump tapped Ozerden to replace Mississippi appellate Judge Grady Jolly, who assumed senior status two years ago. The 5th Circuit currently has 16 active judges to review cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Half those judges have professional roots in Cruz’s home state of Texas.

Only one of the judges, former state Supreme Court Justice James Earl Graves Jr., is from Mississippi. Five of the judges are from Louisiana. Republican presidents appointed 11 of the 16 active judges.

Former Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel, 79, said he has known the Ozerden family most of his life. Schloegel, a Republican, was hoping the judge would get the federal appointment, but took a pragmatic view.

“I think it’s strictly political that they want someone from Texas in that spot, so Sul is being squeezed,” Schloegel said. When U.S. Sen. James Eastland, a Mississippi Democrat, chaired the Judiciary Committee, he saw to it that Mississippi received more than its share of federal judicial appointments, Schloegel said.

“We like it when we have the power but we don’t like it when someone else has the power,” Schloegel said. “It’s a political appointment. That’s the way it works.”

He said that he talked last week to Ozerden. “He was very upbeat but he understands the political side of it,” Schloegel said.

Schloegel and others in South Mississippi believe the Judiciary Committee’s refusal to appoint Ozerden will be the 5th Circuit’s loss.

He said that Ozerden is conservative and “one of the smartest men I know in the jurisprudence world. He’s extremely fair. His parents were outstanding individuals and I think the world of him.”

Anita Lee is a Mississippi native who specializes in investigative, court and government reporting. She has covered South Mississippi’s biggest stories in her decades at the Sun Herald, including the Dixie Mafia, public corruption and Hurricane Katrina, a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort. Nothing upsets her more than government secrecy and seeing people suffer.
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