- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

SUPREME CHAOS: The Politics of Judicial Confirmation and the

Culture War

By Judge Charles Pickering, Stroud & Hall, $24.95, 220 pages

“Chaos” is an odd word to use in the title of this book, for the book is not about chaos, but about a well-organized effort by the American left to achieve through the judicial process what seems to elude it at the ballot box or in Congress. That is, victory in what has come to be known as the culture war.

Charles Pickering, a U.S. District judge for the Southern District of Mississippi since 1990, was nominated by President Bush in May 2001 to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

His nomination was blocked by Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2002 and filibustered by them the next year. In early 2004, the president made him a recess appointee to the court, which meant he would have to leave the bench at the end of that year. He did.

Judge Pickering was one of several victims — that is the only word for it — of the liberals’ concerted effort to prevent well-qualified conservatives from serving on the federal bench. The main organizers of the campaign against Judge Pickering were members of the Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary, a collection of 70 left-wing organizations, such as People for the American Way, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Alliance for Justice and NARAL Pro-Choice America. These and kindred groups are such an important part of the Democratic Party’s voter base that when they lean on Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said members march to their beat.

These interest groups drummed up spurious charges of racial discrimination and “extremism” against Judge Pickering. Senate Democrats dismissed the fact that the American Bar Association had given him its highest rating (“well qualified”), one of their members a few years earlier having declared the ABA rating “the gold standard” for judicial qualifications. Most media picked up the charges and repeated them, although a few reporters did bother to go to Mississippi and found that Judge Pickering was widely respected and had the active support of many African American leaders.

In “Supreme Chaos,” a slender but well-written volume, Judge Pickering makes it clear that the judicial battles are part of the large culture war that has been going on in the nation for several years. He sees it as a war between secularists and traditionalists; between moral relativism on one hand and standards and values on the other. It is being fought on other fronts: against religion in various manifestations (the Ten Commandments, Christmas and the Pledge of Allegiance) and against groups, such as the Boy Scouts, that incorporate God in their guiding statements.

While on one level one can say that the various judicial battles have been “all about abortion” — and they certainly have for some of the left-wing groups — the larger question over which the battles are fought is, what is the role of the courts in the life of the nation?

In one chapter, Judge Pickering examines closely the idea of a “living Constitution,” which he also calls the “Mysterious Constitution.” If your world view is left of center you would naturally want judges on the bench who reflect that view. This is an easier way to make policy than the messy one of persuading enough legislators to pass a bill or amend the Constitution.

Judge Pickering says, however, “Our Founders intended constitutional rights to be secured through the amendment process, not created through the judicial process.”He points out the irony that “Five individuals on the (Supreme) Court changing the agreement between a people and their country does not respect the right of the people for self-governance. A living Constitution turns the concept of ‘We the People’ on its head.”

He goes on to cite several recent cases on “How a Living Constitution Affects Your Life”: the taking of homes in New London, Conn., for a commercial development; atheist Michael Newdow’s efforts to eliminate “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance; the Massachusetts state supreme court mandating legalization of same-sex marriages; and the Ten Commandments cases, two of which contradict one another.

This book is a literate explanation of the judicial element of the culture war. One small complaint: When reviewing the role of the media in his own case, the author repeatedly uses the word “media” as if it were singular. It is not; it is always plural. Alas, it is the frequent misuse of the word by media people themselves that leads others to perpetuate this bit of ignorance.

Peter Hannaford is the author of “Recollections of Reagan.”

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