Starrett worthy choice for federal court post

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 12, 2004

Residents of the 14th Circuit Court District probably greetedlast week’s news of Judge Keith Starrett’s nomination to the U.S.U.S. District Court bench for southern Mississippi with mixedemotions.

While happy to see the judge’s name put up for the lifetimejudgeship, people in Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties will misshis presence on the area court bench.

Starrett has treated everyone who has come before him withfairness and equality since he became judge in 1992. Thosequalities and his other talents would be put to good use on thefederal court level.

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One place where Starrett’s impact on this court district, andindeed the state, can be seen in the many lives he’s touchedthrough drug court.

Starrett began the rehabilitative program for drug offendershere in 1999. It has since spread to several other court districts,with the state legislature this year approving a bill to provide astable source of funding for the programs.

Starrett’s sometimes gentle, sometimes stern guidance of drugcourt participants has kept many on the path to becoming productivemembers of society again. That, in turn, also saved counties andthe state money by not having to lock up drug offenders injail.

Of course, Starrett’s departure is not a foregoneconclusion.

His confirmation faces an uncertain future due to potentialpolitical games in the U.S. Senate and the outcome of the Novemberpresidential election. Judge Charles Pickering, whose vacancyStarrett would fill on the federal court bench, faced years ofdelays and questions by Democrats concerned about his civil rightsrecord.

Pickering’s recess appointment to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court ofAppeals opened the door for Starrett to be nominated. Some critics,including Mississippi’s Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson,questioned why President Bush did not nominate a black judge forthe federal post.

Through his time on the bench, Starrett has proven his abilityto be fair to everyone, regardless of race, political affiliationor other considerations. The Senate should act quickly to confirmhim as a federal judge.