- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

Widely admired
"Back in Washington, his opponents have depicted Judge Charles W. Pickering as the personification of white Mississippi's oppressive past, a man so hostile to civil rights and black progress that he is unfit for promotion to a federal appeals court," the New York Times noted yesterday in a news story.
"But here [in Laurel, Miss.] on the streets of his small and largely black hometown, far from the bitterness of partisan agendas and position papers, Charles Pickering is a widely admired figure of a very different present," reporter David Firestone wrote.
"In funeral parlors and pharmacies, used-car lots and the City Council chambers, the city's black establishment overwhelmingly supports his nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is heading toward a contentious vote in the Senate in the first major judicial battle of the Bush administration.
"Though few black residents here subscribe to Judge Pickering's staunchly Republican politics, many say they admire his efforts at racial reconciliation, which they describe as highly unusual for a white Republican in the state."
Left-wing groups such as People for the American Way and the NAACP have depicted Judge Pickering as hostile to civil rights. "But such comments carry little weight among those who actually know the man personally here in Laurel, in southeast Mississippi. Judge Pickering, now a federal district judge in the nearby city of Hattiesburg, was praised by black city officials for helping to set up after-school youth programs here, and for directing federal money to medical clinics in low-income areas when he was a state senator. Black business leaders say he was influential in persuading white-owned banks to lend money to black entrepreneurs, helping to strengthen the city's black middle class."

An ugly affair
Senators inclined to vote against the nomination of Judge Charles W. Pickering to a federal appeals court "have a reasonable basis to do so," The Washington Post said yesterday in an editorial.
"But opposing a nominee should not mean destroying him. And the attack on Judge Pickering has become an ugly affair. His critics have focused for the most part not on his qualifications, temperament, approach to judging or on the quality of his judicial work. The judge's opponents, rather, have tried to paint him as a barely reconstructed segregationist. To do so they have plucked a number of unconnected incidents from a long career: a law review article from 1959 on the state's anti-miscegenation statute, written when Judge Pickering was a law student; his incidental contacts as a state legislator in the 1970s with the Mississippi state Sovereignty Commission; and his handling of a cross-burning case in his court a few years back, to cite a few examples. None of these incidents, when examined closely, amounts to much, but opponents string them together, gloss over their complexities and self-righteously present a caricature of an unworthy candidate," the newspaper said.
"The portrayal is particularly unfair because Judge Pickering's history on race is actually quite complicated. His unattractive moments as a politician voting for unconstitutional voting schemes, for example hardly distinguish him from other white politicians from his region and of his age. What does distinguish Judge Pickering is that he testified publicly against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s and that, as a young prosecutor, he aided the FBI's efforts against the Klan. He has worked since in racial reconciliation efforts. We don't pretend to know his innermost attitudes, but Judge Pickering's entire record is not that of a committed if now closeted segregationist; nor did the Senate find him to be such when it unanimously voted to confirm him as a district judge in 1990. The need on the part of liberal groups and Democratic senators to portray him as a Neanderthal all the while denying they are doing so in order to justify voting him down is the latest example of the degradation of the confirmation process."

Kennedy deplores ads
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, says he is dismayed by ads Republicans are running against Sen. Tim Johnson that feature President Bush and a narrator who labels Mr. Johnson as a "partisan Democrat" opposed to legislation to help put people back to work.
Asked yesterday on CNN if he thinks the president is trying to exploit his popularity to score political points against Democrats, Mr. Kennedy said, "I think you could certainly draw that [conclusion] from that particular ad.
"But I think the people of North Dakota are going to understand that," Mr. Kennedy said yesterday on the program "Target: Terrorism with Jonathan Karl."
"South Dakota," Mr. Karl corrected his guest.
Mr. Kennedy said he is confident people "in South Dakota and North Dakota will understand that as well.
"So I don't think it will be very effective," he said.

Pelosi's defense
California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic whip, defends her decision to contribute political action committee money to Michigan Rep. Lynn Rivers, who has been thrown into the same congressional district as fellow Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell.
"Are you now going to give the same amount to Mr. Dingell, especially considering how much he helped you in the campaign finance reform bill?" pundit Al Hunt asked the congresswoman Saturday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields."
Said Mrs. Pelosi: "My support of congresswoman Rivers stems from the fact that we want more women in Congress, and those we have we want to stay. … I helped her, as I help many others have leverage in the reapportionment, which preceded their being thrown into the same district."
She added that one of the criteria her political action committee uses in its funding decisions is need. "So if there is need for Mr. Dingell, and he makes a request, we will certainly consider it."

Beneath their dignity
"It takes special people to prompt feelings of sympathy for Ken Lay, but the members of the Senate Commerce Committee, it turns out, are pretty darn special," the New Republic says in its editorial "Notebook."
"When the disgraced former Enron CEO appeared before the committee this [past] week and, as expected, took the Fifth Amendment, the 21 senators practically crawled over one another to pummel Lay a man whom, not so long ago, most of them were crawling over one another to ask for campaign contributions," the magazine observed, before offering up a series of anti-Lay quotes from senators who once took his money.
The magazine cited Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald, Illinois Republican, ($1,038); Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, ($4,000); Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, ($7,500); Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, ($3,500); and Sen. Ernest F. Holllings, South Carolina Democrat and committee chairman, ($3,500).
"One might imagine that in the course of their interminable fulminations, at least one of Lay's inquisitors would have acknowledged that he or she benefited from Enron's largesse," the magazine said. "But apparently such petty disclosures are beneath the dignity of U.S. senators."

The health care issue
"With the war going its way and the economy sorta on the rise, the White House desperately wants a health care plan that will trump Democratic alternatives and help Republicans in fall elections," Margaret Mannix writes in the "Washington Whispers" column of U.S. News & World Report.
"'We did it with the education bill,' a senior Bush official says. 'But we've got to grab health care or they'll use that to kill us.' President Bush wants a Democratic partner a la Sen. Ted Kennedy on the education plan. But Democratic leaders are scrambling to squelch any support for a Bush plan."

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