- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

Presidential hopeful Rep. Richard A. Gephardt yesterday told President Bush that in light of "your party's efforts to repair its image on race relations," he should nominate to the federal bench a Clinton-era black judicial nominee who was defeated by the full Senate in 1999.

Mr. Gephardt and Rep. William Lacy Clay, both Missouri Democrats, sent a letter to the White House yesterday asking the president to nominate Missouri State Supreme Court Judge Ronnie L. White to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

President Bill Clinton nominated Judge White in 1997 to serve as a U.S. district court judge. The nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee but later defeated by the Republican-controlled Senate on a party-line vote.

Mr. Gephardt's letter noted that Mr. Bush this week renominated a group of his own judicial nominees that were blocked or defeated by the Democratic-controlled Senate during the last Congress, including Mississippi District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen, who were defeated at the committee level.

"In light of this and your party's efforts to repair its image on race relations, we urge you to reconsider Judge White's nomination to the federal bench," the letter said. "Such action would be entirely consistent with your stated goal of realizing the promise of America for all our citizens, regardless of race."

White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee said the White House is working to fill the upcoming vacancy in the 8th Circuit, but would not speculate as to whom the president would nominate.

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said Mr. Gephardt's request was "the worst kind of race-baiting" and was meant only to "fan the flames of racial discontentment."

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said Democrats may be pushing the race issue too hard.

"There's a point at which they can overreach on this issue and this illustrates that they may be getting close to that point," Mr. Kyl said.

Democrats have tried to put the Republican Party on the defensive on racial issues, ever since Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, was forced to resign as Senate Republican leader last month because of comments he made at the 100th birthday party for Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican. Mr. Lott expressed his support for Mr. Thurmond's 1948 presidential run on the Dixiecrat ticket. Some in the press and the Democratic Party took those comments as an endorsement of segregation.

Mr. Bush angered Democrats this week by renominating Judge Pickering to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. His nomination was defeated by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee last year, and many Democrats feel he has a poor record on civil rights issues.

But Republicans note that none of the 31 judicial nominees renominated by the president this week received a full Senate vote, and say it is unfair of Mr. Gephardt to compare the White nomination to the Pickering nomination.

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