- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

The battle to confirm appeals court nominee Judge Charles W. Pickering is not about qualifications, but partisan payback against the Bush administration and Republicans, said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott.
"It was a shot at the president, and I think it was sort of a payback against me and the Republicans and what we didn't do when we were in the majority," said Mr. Lott, referring to some liberal judicial nominations made by President Clinton and rejected by the Republican majority.
"This is much bigger than Charles Pickering; this is to try to send a message to the president that if you send any kind of conservative Republican up here, this is what will happen to them," the Mississippi Republican said in an interview this week with The Washington Times.
Despite the "character assassination" inflicted by liberal special-interest groups, Mr. Lott said, he is optimistic tomorrow's Judiciary Committee vote on the embattled Mississippi district judge will be positive. However, he added an ominous threat to his optimism during the interview.
"I am still hopeful that something can occur that will allow Judge Pickering to have the courtesy and consideration he deserves with a vote in the full Senate, and that we can find some way to keep this from going nuclear," Mr. Lott said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, at his weekly briefing yesterday, denied that the opposition was politically motivated.
"This is not in any way meant to be a political issue. This is an issue of conscience among members of the Judiciary Committee, and I will respect their decision," the South Dakota Democrat said.
Mr. Daschle said that if Judge Pickering is not approved by the committee, on which Democrats hold a one-seat majority, he will not bring the nomination to the full Senate for a vote.
"Following what we understand is almost unequivocal precedent here I don't know of a case where a committee has not reported a district or circuit judge out and the Senate has gone around the committee and taken up the issue," Mr. Daschle said.
In the 14 months he has been in the White House, President Bush has nominated 29 circuit court judges and seven have been confirmed. By comparison, in their first two years in office, Mr. Clinton nominated 22 circuit judges with 19 confirmed, President George Bush nominated 23 circuit judges and 22 were confirmed, and President Reagan nominated 20 circuit judges and 19 were confirmed.
"I think they may be perfectly willing to do this to other nominees. I mean, just the fact there are eight nominees for the circuit court who have been sitting there since May without even a hearing," Mr. Lott said.
Judge Pickering's contentious nomination is a dress rehearsal for Supreme Court nominees, "no question about it, and I'm not even sure it's the last one either," Mr. Lott said.
Opponents have characterized Judge Pickering as soft on civil rights issues, but carefully avoided directly labeling him a racist.
"They assumed because he was a conservative Republican from Mississippi they could attack him on his civil rights record," Mr. Lott said. "Well, that blew up on them because the record shows that he has taken very courageous positions over a number of years. Even his attackers have backed away from saying he has a questionable record on civil rights, and most of them said they never said he was a racist."
On Monday, the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed and defended Judge Pickering's record on civil rights.
"If it's about partisan payback and attacking the president, they should level with the American people and stop smearing a man, in their pursuit of partisan politics, who has given his life to public service," said Rich Tafel, executive director of the homosexual Republican group.
Former Mississippi Democratic Gov. William Winter and former Assistant Attorney General Frank Hunger, a Clinton appointee and former Vice President Al Gore's brother-in-law, were on Capitol Hill yesterday to lobby on behalf of Judge Pickering's confirmation.

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