U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi is blocking the judicial nomination of a district attorney from her state because he’s supported transgender rights and once received help from a political action committee funded by George Soros.
Scott Colom is the DA for Mississippi’s 16th circuit court district, in the northeastern part of the state. He was the first Black DA in that district and in any majority-white district in the state, the Mississippi Free Press reports. President Joe Biden has nominated him to be a U.S. district court judge for the Northern District of Mississippi.
“Under Senate tradition, senators can block judicial nominees from their home states by refusing to grant approval by returning a piece of paper known as a ‘blue slip’ to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee,” the Free Press explains. Hyde-Smith, a Republican, announced Tuesday that she would not approve Colom’s nomination, even though Mississippi’s other U.S. senator, fellow GOPer Roger Wicker, already has.
“I visited with the District Attorney recently, and I recognize that he is smart and well liked in his district,” Hyde-Smith said in a prepared statement, according to the publication. “However, there are a number of concerns I have regarding his record. As someone with a strong interest in protecting the rights of girls and women, I am concerned about Scott Colom’s opposition to legislation to protect female athletes.”
She also said the “significant support” that Colom “received from George Soros” weighs “heavily against his nomination in my view.” Soros is a philanthropist who funds progressive causes, rousing the ire of many on the right, some of whom have spread lies and conspiracy theories about him.
“I simply cannot support his nomination to serve on the federal bench in Mississippi for a lifetime,” Hyde-Smith said.
Her claims against Colom are counterfactual. Colom did sign on to a 2021 letter objecting to the “deeply disturbing and destructive criminalization of gender-affirming healthcare and transgender people.” The letter dealt with medical care and restroom restrictions, not sports. Mississippi had passed a law in 2021 barring trans student athletes from playing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. It approved a ban on gender-affirming care for minors this year.
As for Soros, he donated to a PAC called Mississippi Safety & Justice, which ran ads supporting Colom in his campaign for DA in 2015, when he was first elected. Colom received no campaign contributions from the PAC, and he was never in touch with Soros.
Soros, who made a fortune through hedge funds and now spreads it to liberal causes through Open Society Foundations, which he established, is a frequent target of the far right. He was born in Hungary and emigrated to England at age 17, in 1947, and later to the U.S. He and his family had to hide their Jewish identity during World War II to escape the Holocaust.
But right-wing extremists have painted him as a Nazi collaborator (he wasn’t) and claimed he funded protests that took place after Black man George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in 2020 (he didn’t). He has also been falsely accused of funding other protests, such as those that happened after Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016. A bomb was found at Soros’s home in the suburbs of New York City in 2018.
Hyde-Smith has endorsed Trump’s 2024 presidential bid and called Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s prosecution of the former president for business fraud “a political stunt by a prosecutor whose campaign was funded by George Soros.” Bragg did not receive any money directly from Soros, but received funds from Color of Change PAC, to which Soros has donated.
At a Wednesday press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre denounced Hyde-Smith’s block of Colom’s nomination. “It is unfortunate, sadly, that regardless of being duly consulted — consulted well in advance and despite Sen. Wicker returning a blue slip, Sen. Hyde-Smith is preventing the people of Mississippi from having a judge in place in a timely fashion to uphold the rule of law for her state,” she said. “So, you know, furthermore, Sen. Hyde-Smith never raised these issues before today, over the course of months, including when she met with Mr. Colom several — several weeks ago and never suggested any alternative candidates.”
While blue slip custom is traditional, it’s not legally binding — the Senate could consider Colom’s nomination nonetheless. It did so with 17 Trump nominees who lacked blue slips and confirmed them when Republicans controlled the body, Politicoreports. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has decided to ignore the blue slip custom for circuit (appeals) court nominations, and liberal organizations such as Demand Justice are calling on him to do it with district court nominees too.
Durbin hasn’t said if he would, nor has the Biden administration made a definitive statement on the blue slip issue. Durbin “is extremely disappointed in Sen. Hyde-Smith’s lack of communication and ultimate obstruction of a highly qualified nominee,” said his spokesperson, Emily Hampsten, according to Politico. “In the coming days, he’ll be assessing and will respond more fully.” Jean-Pierre said the administration would “leave it to the Senate to figure that piece out,” although she reiterated Biden’s support for Colom.
Last year a gay federal judicial nominee, William Pocan of Wisconsin, was blocked because one of his home-state senators, Republican Ron Johnson, wouldn’t return the blue slip. Pocan is the brother of U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, also a gay man, who is chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.