- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

U.S. Circuit Court judge nominee Charles W. Pickering yesterday deflected charges of racism by liberal groups and politicians, citing his civil rights record before a Senate panel.
Mr. Pickering, at present the U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi, worked with the FBI in the 1960s to rein in violence against blacks during the civil rights struggles and once testified against the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
"I prosecuted and condemned Klan action and lost an election because of my stand against the KKK," Mr. Pickering said.
"I took some stands, and although they were costly, I have no regrets," Mr. Pickering told the Senate Judiciary Committee in his second nomination hearing.
Mr. Pickering helped create the Institute of Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi and hired the first black political staffer for the Mississippi Republican Party in the 1970s. Yet Democrats yesterday harshly questioned the judge's record on racial issues.
Judge Pickering recalled sending a man to jail for burning a cross in the yard of a racially mixed family, but Democrats said the judge engaged in unofficial communication to reduce the maximum sentence in that case.
Judge Pickering said he protested a disparity in sentencing because the guiltiest of the three responsible, who fired a gun into a house, was offered the lightest sentence by the federal government.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, ranking member and Utah Republican, said the hearing was a "fishing expedition" to tarnish Judge Pickering's reputation.
"I am troubled by what appears to be a national agenda by a coalition of left-wing interest groups who have spent months hunting around for an excuse to use the Pickering nomination as a way to attempt to paint this administration's nominees as extremist," Mr. Hatch said.
Democrats also questioned whether the pro-life judge would rule fairly in cases involving abortion rights. "My personal views are irrelevant," Judge Pickering said.
In a press event prior to the hearing, fellow Mississippian Charles Evers appealed to senators to support Judge Pickering.
Mr. Evers is the brother of Medgar Evers, a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organizer who was murdered in 1963.
"I don't know where the NAACP and these groups are coming from calling Judge Pickering a racist," said Mr. Evers, a Republican who was a Bush delegate to the 2000 party convention.
The Congressional Black Caucus strongly opposes the nomination, and held a news conference earlier in the week calling Judge Pickering's record toward minorities hostile.
Asked about blacks who support the nomination, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, said, "I'm sure somewhere a Judas will come out and support Pickering."
Mr. Bush nominated Judge Pickering to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 25 and the committee held a hearing on Oct. 18, days after a letter containing anthrax was sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office.
A second hearing was called after opponents complained they were prevented from attending the first, and Democrats asked that 900 unpublished opinions by Judge Pickering be collected and forwarded to the committee.
A vote on several district court judges, including the contentious nomination of David L. Bunning to the Eastern District of Kentucky, almost didn't happen in an earlier committee meeting.
The committee lacked a quorum and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and committee chairman, told staff to call missing members. "If people want their judges, fine, let's get a quorum."
When told that many senators were attending the National Prayer Breakfast at the National Cathedral, Mr. Leahy said: "Tell them to pray faster."
Minutes later, 99-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, entered the hearing room in a wheelchair and all judges were quickly and unanimously approved.
Mr. Bunning, son of Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, was given an unfavorable rating by the American Bar Association, but was approved along with five additional judges in a 19-0 vote.

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