- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats yesterday handed President Bush his first defeat on a judicial nomination, rejecting Mississippi District Court Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. for an appeals court seat.
The panel rejected the nomination 10-9 in three party-line votes after the most bitter, partisan Senate fight since the confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft. The three failed votes were to report the nomination to the Senate floor favorably, unfavorably and without recommendation.
"I have concluded Judge Pickering's own record of performance does not merit his promotion to one of the highest courts in the land," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and committee chairman.
After four hours of partisan wrangling in the committee, the debate spilled onto the Senate floor, where Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott called the vote "a slap at Mississippi" and "a terrible miscarriage of justice."
"His character has been smeared," Mr. Lott said. "And it was wrong."
In a statement, Mr. Bush said he was "deeply disappointed" by the result.
Judge Pickering "deserves better than to be blocked by a party-line vote of ten senators on one committee," the president said. "The voice of the entire Senate deserves to be heard."
"Ghosts of the past" were used to tarnish the judge's good name without foundation because Judge Pickering is white, southern and conservative, Mr. Lott said.
"It's an attack on my state, his religion and race, which was inaccurate and really a tragedy," Mr. Lott said.
The judge's son, Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. of Mississippi, sat quietly in the front row throughout the Senate committee hearing.
The younger Mr. Pickering said his father was watching the proceedings on television at the family's Mississippi home.
The contentious confirmation was dominated by liberal interest groups, who painted the conservative district judge as a racist, despite blacks in his home state who called him a defender of civil rights.
Mr. Bush pleaded with Democrats this week to treat his candidate fairly in a contest for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans called the battle a preview of any future Supreme Court nomination fights.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said special interest groups have tried to "hijack the Senate" and have called Judge Pickering a "racist, sexist, bigot."
"It was a well-coordinated guerrilla tactic. … Shame on you for poisoning the confirmation process," Mr. Grassley said.
People for the American Way President Ralph G. Neas, whose group led the anti-Pickering forces, called it "a victory for Americans opposed to right-wing domination of the federal courts."
Panel Democrats said they did not believe Judge Pickering to be a racist but questioned his dedication to civil rights.
"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. "When it comes to choosing judges to uphold our constitutional values, we should reject individuals who are behind that curve."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called Judge Pickering a "decent and honorable man."
"But we don't elevate a person to the second-highest court in the land just because he's not a racist. We must have a higher standard than that," Mr. Schumer said.
Mr. Leahy said he opposed Judge Pickering to a higher bench for injecting his personal opinions into voting rights and employment discrimination issues and his overall judicial record.
"That record shows a judge inserting his personal views into his judicial opinions and putting his personal preferences above the law," Mr. Leahy said.
It is the constitutional responsibility of the Senate to advise and consent, not "advise and rubber-stamp," Mr. Leahy said.
Republicans say Judge Pickering's confirmation is not about qualifications but partisan payback.
"He is bigger than all of this, and he will continue to have an outstanding career," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
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, President Clinton nominated 22 circuit judges with 19 confirmed, President George Bush nominated 23 circuit judges with 22 confirmed, and President Reagan nominated 20 circuit judges with 19 confirmed.
When Mr. Bush took office there were 67 judicial vacancies; today there are 96 vacancies.
Republicans called the vote a signal to Mr. Bush that other conservative judges will face the same character assassination and not be confirmed.
Democrats said the Bush administration bears some burden to consult with them before putting nominees before the Senate.
"Otherwise, we would simply be rewarding the obstructionism that the president's party engaged in over the last six years by allowing him to fill with his choice seats that his party held open for years, even when qualified nominees were advanced by President Clinton," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.
Republicans admitted that some of Mr. Clinton's nominees were not treated fairly but said the partisan deadlock must end.
"It's time for a truce," said Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican.
In his floor speech, Mr. Lott said he had failed Judge Pickering but that his fellow Mississippian is not the loser.
"We are the losers, we have lost the service of a good man and demeaned the institution by what has happened."
Mr. Lott did not offer to withdraw the nomination and gave no indication what the next step will be.
"I'm not going to let go of this. This will stick in my mind for along time," Mr. Lott said.
The nine Republicans on the committee are Mr. Grassley, Mr. McConnell, Mr. Specter, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, John Kyl of Arizona, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Sam Brownback of Kansas.
Besides Mr. Leahy, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Schumer and Mr. Feingold, the panel's other six Democrats are Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Herbert Kohl of Wisconsin, Dianne Feinstein of California, Maria Cantwell of Washington and John Edwards of North Carolina.
One Democrat not on the panel, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, attacked the committee.
"This action may very well elect a Republican governor in Mississippi," he said, calling the vote an example of "the Terry-tail wagging the Democratic donkey," referring to Terry McAuliffe, the party's chairman.


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