- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

A key Senate Republican yesterday forced a vote delay on federal appeals court nominee Judge Charles W. Pickering, saying the candidate is the victim of a "lynching" by special interest groups over civil rights issues.

"It is the product of engineering by extreme-left Washington special interest groups who are out of touch with the mainstream and have a political ax to grind," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Hatch asked for a one-week delay of the committee vote where Democrats outnumber Republican members by one, but none indicated they were willing to change their minds.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and committee chairman, said he is resolute in his opposition.

"My mind is made up," Mr. Leahy said.

The nomination of Mr. Pickering to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is opposed by at least 25 special interest groups in Washington, which have labeled him as unfriendly to women and racial minorities.

Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, a leading opponent, said Mr. Hatch's remarks are a "diversionary tactic" to take the spotlight off Judge Pickering's judicial record.

"Senator Hatch's remarks were inaccurate and unfair," Mr. Neas said.

"Opposition to Judge Pickering is based on his record as a District Court judge and a state senator. Whenever the civil rights and women's rights community opposes a judicial nominee supported by Senator Hatch, he always tries to make the opposition the issue, rather than the public record of the nominee," Mr. Neas said.

Mr. Hatch said two different pictures of Judge Pickering have emerged from the confirmation battle: one that he took courageous stands against racism, the other that he is an opponent of civil rights.

At least 50 special interest groups support Judge Pickering's nomination.

"In order to do their lynching, the groups are committed to changing the ground rules for the confirmation process," Mr. Hatch said.

"And there is a new war over circuit nominees, and they demand that the Democrats do whatever possible to stop or slow the confirmation of these fine nominees. For them, the means justify the ends at whatever the cost including the gross distortion of a man's record and character," Mr. Hatch said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the lynching remark was "truly inappropriate." Mr. Hatch agreed it was a "tough word" but stood by his statement.

Mr. Leahy agreed the outside intervention has been "very distasteful" but blamed religious groups for initiating a phone campaign to Democratic offices to pressure them to support Judge Pickering for his pro-life stance.

"I have never heard of a religious litmus test for this committee," Mr. Leahy said.

The deadlock prompted heated debate on both sides as to how nominees can proceed through the committee process, which is bogged down in a contentious and partisan atmosphere.

"This has been going on in private discussions, we are on the verge of an institutional crisis and both sides are responsible for it," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican

"We are inching towards a place where no one can be confirmed," Mr. McConnell said.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said the committee is "heading into a train wreck."

Two confirmation hearings have been held for the Mississippi District Court judge, who was nominated by President Bush on May 25, 2001.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has said he will not bypass the committee and bring the nomination for a full vote, which President Bush requested Wednesday.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said it is a "foregone conclusion" Judge Pickering's nomination will not pass in a committee vote, and called the opposition a "warm-up for a later confirmation battle over Supreme Court nominees."

"It may be too late for Judge Pickering, but my hope is we can draw a truce," Mr. Specter said.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware said he will not change his mind in opposing Judge Pickering, but cautioned fellow Democrats to "be careful of the rationale we establish if we vote for or against" Judge Pickering based on any one issue, such as abortion.

"If Republicans take back control, it will be a cold day … before we have anyone on the bench who is pro-choice," Mr. Biden said.

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