- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

President Bush yesterday sent 31 judicial nominees to the Senate, including renominations of several candidates whom the Democrats blocked last year when they controlled the Judiciary Committee.
Among the names is U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr., who Mr. Bush wants to serve on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. His nomination was rejected on a party-line vote in the Judiciary Committee last year.
The list also includes Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Richman Owen for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Miguel A. Estrada, who the administration wants to serve on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee said the two judges had been nominated previously but never received a full Senate vote.
Submitting the names sets up the first big challenge for the new majority, and Republicans said they were anxious to get to work on the nominees.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, "is pleased that the president is acting as soon as possible on nominations. We have a lot of leftover work to do," said Margarita Tapia, a spokeswoman for Mr. Hatch, the incoming Judiciary Committee chairman.
But the nominations can't move until the two parties resolve how committees will be organized. As the majority party, Republicans will eventually control the gavel, but Democrats are demanding near-parity in committee staff and funding.
Without a new agreement, last year's arrangements remain in place, and that means Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, still holds the Judiciary chairmanship and can block action.
"It depends on when the Democratic minority lets the Republican majority have chairmanships of committees," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and a member of the Judiciary panel. "As soon as they do, we'll move forward."
Democrats said they will do what they can to block Judge Pickering in particular.
"Judge Pickering's record reflects a hostility to civil rights and a vision of the Republican Party that reminds Americans of a painful time in our nation's history," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, who promised that Democrats will "use every tool in our arsenal to ensure that his nomination is rejected again this year."
Judge Pickering's chief supporter was Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, who was forced to resign as Senate Republican leader last month after he made comments some took as an endorsement of segregation. Democrats are bound to note that in their opposition.
But Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr., Mississippi Republican and the judge's son, yesterday said the renomination showed Mr. Bush's confidence in his father and said Judge Pickering's past had been distorted during last year's hearings.
"My father's record is one of fighting the Klan and supporting integration in his children's schools and working for reconciliation," the congressman said.
He said he sees his father's nomination as a chance for Mr. Bush to continue the theme from his Philadelphia speech criticizing Mr. Lott.
"He can now have the opportunity to challenge leaders of the other party to stop using the issue of race to divide our country for political gain," Mr. Pickering said.
Ms. Snee also disputed Democrats' characterization of Judge Pickering.
"These accusations ring hollow to anyone who reviews the facts and the records," she said, pointing out that Judge Pickering was "unanimously confirmed [as a district judge] by the Senate 12 years ago."

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