U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is blocking President Joe Biden’s nomination of Scott Colom, a northeast Mississippi district attorney, to serve as U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Mississippi. The Republican senator announced the decision Tuesday, citing the Black nominee’s support for transgender rights and support he received from a PAC funded by billionaire philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros in 2015.
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. Mississippi’s other U.S. senator, Republican Roger Wicker, has already granted Colom his approval.
“I visited with the District Attorney recently, and I recognize that he is smart and well liked in his district,” the Republican senator said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
In 2021, Mississippi enacted a law banning transgender student athletes from participating on teams that match their gender identity. Colom has not directly addressed that issue, but did sign a letter in 2021 opposing “ongoing efforts to criminalize transgender people and gender-affirming healthcare across the country,” including efforts to “criminalize parents who allow their children to receive medically recommended treatments.” The letter did not mention sports. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a law banning gender-affirming care for anyone under age 18, including puberty blockers and hormone treatments, last month.
White House ‘Sticking By’ Colom
U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson recommended Colom to Biden in a 2021 letter and the president later nominated him in October 2022.
During a press briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden is “going to stick with” Colom and that he “was very proud to choose someone who is deeply qualified, dedicated to our Constitution, and who received the backing of Republicans and Democrats in Mississippi.”
“So, it is unfortunate, sadly, that regardless of being duly consulted—consulted well in advance and despite Senator 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.”
In her statement Tuesday, Hyde-Smith cited “significant support” that Colom “received from George Soros” as also weighing “heavily against his nomination in my view.”
“I simply cannot support his nomination to serve on the federal bench in Mississippi for a lifetime,” she said.
But Colom’s campaign did not directly receive financial support from Soros. In 2015, the New York philanthropist spent $716,000 funding a PAC called Mississippi Safety & Justice that ran ads supporting Colom, but which did not contribute to his campaign. Colom told the Clarion-Ledger in 2015 that he did not have any contact with the billionaire. Though the PAC solely focused on Colom’s race, Soros funded similar PACs that supported Democratic and progressive prosecutors across the country.
Soros is known for supporting organizations like the Innocence Project, which seeks to free wrongfully convicted people from prison, and has used his money to challenge what he considers unfair prosecutors across the country. In 2015, Colom was running against Forrest Allgood, who served as the 16th circuit district attorney from 1989 to 2015. Allgood gained a reputation for his zealous prosecutions and his use of the now-discredited forensic odontology practices, through which he used bitemark evidence to convict people for crimes they did not commit.
Colom won his election to serve as the district attorney for Mississippi’s 16th district circuit court (which includes Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay and Noxubee counties) in 2015, making him the first Black man elected as district attorney in that district and in any majority-white district in the state. He won reelection in 2019 unopposed. Soros has not used funds to help Colom since 2015.
Hyde-Smith Cited Soros In Trump Endorsement
Soros has long been a target of right-wing criticisms and conspiracy theories, often with antisemitic overtones that draw on myths about wealthy Jewish men with outsize control over world affairs. In 2018, a white-supremacist mass shooter who claimed Soros was bringing thousands of immigrants into the country to commit so-called “white genocide” entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and killed 11 Jewish worshippers.
That same year, a domestic terrorist planted a pipe bomb in Soros’ mailbox, along with targeting multiple high-profile Democrats like Biden, former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Still, Hyde-Smith and high-profile Republicans have continued to make Soros a central figure in their arguments against Democrats and adjacent officials. When U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy challenged her in 2018, Hyde-Smith tweeted an image showing the left-half of the Jewish billionaire’s face merged with her Black Democratic opponent’s face.
On the eve of former President Donald Trump’s arrest for 34 counts of falsifying business records Monday, Mississippi’s junior U.S. senator endorsed his 2024 presidential bid, calling the prosecution “a political stunt by a prosecutor whose campaign was funded by George Soros.”
The New York prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, previously received donations from Color of Change PAC. Soros has donated millions to the PAC over the years, but did not donate to Bragg directly. The PAC’s founders launched it in 2005 on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, and its website says it “leads campaigns that build real power for Black communities” with a focus on challenging “injustice” and commissioning “game-changing research on systems of inequality.”
“I urge my fellow Mississippians and fellow Republicans across the country to join me in supporting President Trump and working on his behalf,” Hyde-Smith, who voted against convicting Trump in both his 2020 and 2021 impeachments, said in a Facebook post Tuesday, where she echoed Trump’s claim that Bragg was “hand-picked and funded by George Soros.”
The Democratic-led U.S. Senate could still override Hyde-Smith’s objection and confirm Colom anyway, as Republicans did when a Democratic senator refused to return a blue slip for a Trump nominee in 2018, though that is rare. That instance marked the first time the Senate’s majority had overridden a home-state senator’s refusal to return a blue slip in almost three decades.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press’ Seung Min Kim reported that a spokesman for U.S. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he was “extremely disappointed in Sen. Hyde-Smith’s lack of communication and ultimate obstruction of a highly-qualified nominee.”
“In the coming days, he’ll be assessing and will respond more fully,” the spokesperson said.
Colom offered no comment on Sen. Hyde-Smith’s decision when reached by the Mississippi Free Press Thursday morning.
Editor’s Note: Scott Colom has previously contributed an opinion column to the Mississippi Free Press. He and his father Wilbur Colom also donated to this publication together in 2020. Donations have no influence on this publication’s coverage.