- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

President Bush yesterday accused Senate Democrats of "playing politics" with federal court nominee Charles Pickering, even as the White House hinted of racial skeletons in Democratic closets.
"They're holding this man's nomination up for political purposes, and it's not fair, and it's not right," Mr. Bush told reporters during a meeting with Judge Pickering in the Oval Office.
All 10 Democrats on the 19-member Senate Judiciary Committee were expected to vote against Mr. Pickering today.
But later yesterday, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the committee's top Republican, said he probably will ask the panel to delay voting for a week, a move that would give Republicans time to try to sway committee Democrats into sending the nomination for a Senate floor vote.
"I think the judge is not being treated fairly," Mr. Hatch said. "It does give another week for consideration by our colleagues who hopefully will look at what an outside smear job this has been."
Judiciary Committee members have the right to hold over any nomination for one week.
Some Democrat opponents of Judge Pickering have complained that he failed to condemn Mississippi's ban on interracial marriage in a law article he wrote in 1959, when he was 21.
"You're referring to something that took place over 40 years ago, when he was a law student," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. "If actions taken by people 40 years ago were the criteria, there'd be some senators who are voting on this nomination whose very history would come into play."
Although Mr. Fleischer would not mention names, his comments recalled the 1940s Ku Klux Klan membership of Sen. Robert C. Byrd. The West Virginia Democrat also filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act, opposed Supreme Court nominee Thurgood Marshall and vowed never to serve in an integrated Army.
"Rather I should die a thousand times and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds," Mr. Byrd wrote to segregationist Sen. Theodore Bilbo, Mississippi Democrat, in 1945.
By contrast, Republicans pointed out that Judge Pickering testified against a KKK leader in 1967, which cost him re-election as a Mississippi prosecutor. Later, as a judge, he ruled that a jury had insufficiently compensated a married couple in a lawsuit because the couple were biracial.
Mr. Bush said Judge Pickering is "a fine jurist, a man of quality and integrity" and "a man who respects the rights of all citizens."
The president warned against a Senate "process that would malign a man such as him." He pointed out that all 100 senators voted for Judge Pickering when he was first nominated to the U.S. District Court in 1990 by his father, President George H.W. Bush.
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday vowed to block a floor vote if Judge Pickering's elevation to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is not first approved by the Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee.
"Taking … a district court judge out of a committee after a negative vote is unprecedented," said the South Dakota Democrat. "We would do that for Supreme Court nominees, but if we respect the committee process at all, I think you have to respect the decisions of every committee."
In an effort to increase pressure on Mr. Daschle, the president invited a biracial group of eight Mississippi Democrats and Republicans to join him at yesterday's Oval Office meeting with Judge Pickering. These included Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, and Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, a Democrat.
In addition, Mr. Bush noted that Judge Pickering is supported by Democrat Frank Hunger, who played a key role in the presidential campaign of his brother-in-law, Vice President Al Gore.
Mr. Daschle was asked why these endorsements were not good enough.
"Well, because there are many civil rights leaders who disagree with those civil rights advocates," he replied. "They are very deeply concerned about whether or not Judge Pickering could uphold the civil rights laws of the land, whether or not he is willing to do that, whether or not he's prepared to do that."
Many of the same Democrats who voted for Judge Pickering a dozen years ago are now planning to vote against him in an attempt to discourage Mr. Bush from nominating a conservative to the Supreme Court in the event of a vacancy.
But at least two Democratic senators, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, have indicated they might support Judge Pickering. That would give the 49 Senate Republicans a 51-vote majority if the matter were to reach the Senate floor.
Yesterday's overt demonstration of presidential support for Judge Pickering was designed to send the message that "we will fight" for Mr. Bush's nominees, a senior White House official said.
Dave Boyer contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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