- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

The White House yesterday lashed out at "liberal Democrats" for trying to portray as racially insensitive President Bush's renomination this week of Mississippi District Court Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. for an appeals court seat.
"This controversy, if there is one, about Judge Pickering, I submit to you, this has nothing nothing to do with race and everything to do with the ideology of a few liberal Democrats," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "This is not about race. It's about ideology."
Judge Pickering, the president's pick for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was defeated by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee last year. Mr. Bush renominated him Tuesday, along with 30 other judicial nominees who never received Senate votes during the last Congress.
New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer and other Democrats yesterday pledged to do everything in their power to block the Pickering nomination, including filibuster, even though Republicans now control the chamber.
"I'm prepared to do everything I can to stop the nomination of Justice Pickering," said Mr. Schumer, adding that he did not expect to block Judge Pickering in the Judiciary Committee.
"In committee, the ability to prevent the nomination from coming out is rather limited," he said.
Mr. Schumer will seek the 41 votes needed to sustain a filibuster, and it was not clear whether Republicans have the 60 votes needed to end such an obstruction and force a vote.
Democrats said Judge Pickering has a poor record on civil rights issues, and specifically mentioned a case in which they said he tried to get a lighter sentence for a convicted cross-burner. Mr. Schumer called that "simply mind-boggling."
But Mr. Fleischer defended Judge Pickering regarding that case.
"Judge Pickering expressed his record of disdain for this heinous crime," he said. "He was concerned in this case about disparate sentences. The person he deemed most guilty was given no jail time, while the person he believed less culpable faced what even the prosecutor agreed was a draconian sentence."
The Judiciary Committee has not announced whether Judge Pickering will receive another hearing or just a vote on his nomination. The panel has held two hearings on his nomination already.
"We hope to move him in a timely fashion," said a spokeswoman for incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.
Democrats are prepared to link the nomination to Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, who stepped down from his Senate leadership post in late December after making comments that were widely seen as nostalgic for segregation.
"It is surprising to me that the administration, given all the problems that the Republican Party has had in the last few weeks, would act so irresponsibly," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Republicans praised the president's renomination and said Judge Pickering's record is being distorted.
"This is a man who testified against the Klan in 1967 at great personal risk to himself and to his family," said Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said it would "set a very dangerous precedent for the Democrats to begin filibustering federal judges."
But Mr. Daschle said he will support whatever tactics it takes to block the nomination, and he said that is more important than breaking precedent by filibustering. Democrats Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts also will join Mr. Schumer's effort.
Mr. McConnell said Judge Pickering's nomination would have been confirmed by the full Senate if a floor vote had been allowed last time and was hopeful for this time.
"And I'm optimistic that A) he will get to the floor, and that B) he will be confirmed by the full Senate," he said.
The list of nominees President Bush sent for the second time to the Senate this week 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.
A Senate Democratic aide said Judge Owen would likely face the same level of opposition.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said Judge Pickering is "extraordinarily qualified" for the job and said he would insist the qualifications of the 31 nominees determine their fate not "rhetoric."
Complicating the matter is the fact that Republicans and Democrats still have not agreed on how to organize the Senate because they disagree over how committees should split funding. Until the organizing resolution is passed, Democrats remain in charge of the committees as they were last session.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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