- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

It's almost enough to make one feel sorry for Julian Bond, Ralph Neas and the propaganda folks at People For the American Way (PFAW), the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and a who's who of abortion-rights backers. After all, how can they do their job defeating President Bush's nomination of Charles Pickering Sr. to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals by smearing him as an unreconstructed segregationist and an enemy of civil rights when Judge Pickering has been enthusiastically endorsed by many blacks in his home state of Mississippi, including civil rights leader Charles Evers? For his part, PFAW's Mr. Neas asserts that Judge Pickering has demonstrated "insensitivity and hostility" to "basic civil rights principles." A "vote for Pickering is a vote against civil rights," fumes the NAACP's Mr. Bond.

One major problem with these arguments is that black residents of Judge Pickering's hometown of Laurel, Miss., say they are hogwash. David Firestone, a New York Times correspondent who conducted scores of interviews there in recent weeks, wrote that "Such comments actually carry little weight among those who actually know the man personally here in Laurel." Mr. Firestone added that "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." Mr. Firestone's piece, which was unfortunately buried on page A16 of Sunday's Times, noted that Judge Pickering, currently a federal district judge in nearby Hattiesburg, "was praised by black city officials for helping to set up after-school youth programs here, and for directing federal money to 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." Thaddeus Edmonson, a former local president of the NAACP who currently serves as president of Laurel's city council, said of Judge Pickering that "I can't believe the man they're describing in Washington is the same one I've known for years." Four of the five blacks on the seven-member city council want Judge Pickering elevated to the appeals court.

Local black residents also remember that in 1967, Judge Pickering testified against Samuel Bowers, a local Ku Klux Klan leader who was on trial for the firebombing death of a local civil rights worker. Black officials in Laurel today say that, just as Judge Pickering broke with prevailing white opinion and risked his life by testifying against Bowers (who is in jail for murdering another civil rights leader more than three decades ago), Mississippi blacks today have every right to ignore Messrs. Neas and Bond and the CBC and to support Judge Pickering. This apparently doesn't sit well with Rep. Bennie Thompson, a CBC member and Democrat who represents another part of Mississippi in Congress, who slandered Judge Pickering's black supporters as "Judases." Even The Washington Post, no fan of Judge Pickering, editorialized that the attacks on him have been "ugly," "self-righteous" and "unfair," adding that "the need on the part of liberal groups and Democratic senators to portray him as a Neanderthal" is "the latest example of the degradation of the confirmation process." It's time to end the smear campaign and approve Judge Pickering's nomination to the court.

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