- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

After more than 880 days since President Bush nominated him, Judge Charles Pickering’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals is finally, and properly, before the Senate.Including 24 currently serving Democrats, the Senate unanimously confirmed him to the U.S. District Court in 1990.The case for the same result now is compelling.

First, Judge Pickering is a good and decent man. His most deeply- held beliefs, including the religious ones some find so troubling, commit him to fairness, justice and respect.He worked for racial equality long before it was popular, testifying against the Ku Klux Klan, sending his own children to Mississippi’s first integrated public schools, and today serving on the board of the University of Mississippi’s Institute for Racial Reconciliation.Judge Pickering has served his community throughout his life, chairing his home county’s March of Dimes and Red Cross campaigns, as well as its Heart Fund, United Givers Fund and Drug Education Council.

Second, Judge Pickering is highly qualified.He graduated at the top of his law school class and practiced law, both civil and criminal, for nearly three decades.The American Bar Association gave him its highest “Well Qualified” rating for appointment to the U.S. District Court, and now, to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Not only does he have more than a decade of experience on the federal trial bench, but he has also served in leadership positions within the judicial branch.

Third, Judge Pickering has wide, bipartisan support.His strongest support, from across the political spectrum, comes from those who know him best.Every Democratic statewide elected official in Mississippi signed a letter stating that “Judge Pickering’s record demonstrates his commitment to equal protection, equal rights and fairness for all.”State Rep. Philip West, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and past vice president of the Mississippi NAACP, and James Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights activist Medger Evers, are among his most vocal backers.

Fourth, the arguments against Judge Pickering either fail under even a little scrutiny or are nothing but cloaked ideological litmus tests. His opponents obsess about a case in which Judge Pickering sought criminal sentences for co-defendants that were proportional both to their crimes and to each other. This is every trial judge’s obligation, and is consistent with Judge Pickering’s pattern of leniency for first-time offenders. Had this case not involved burning a cross, his opponents would have breezed past it in their search for ammunition.The fact that it did shows only that Judge Pickering approaches cases consistently and properly, whether they involve the ordinary or the outrageous.

His opponents observe that some of Judge Pickering’s decisions have been reversed on appeal. This fact alone means nothing; most judges get reversed at some point. At the time of his hearing, only 26 of his more than 4,000 decisions had been reversed, a rate lower than district judges nationwide, or even within the Fifth Circuit.You can bet that if his opponents liked the decisions being reversed, they would be condemning the appeals court rather than Judge Pickering.

His opponents similarly accuse Judge Pickering of ignoring “well-settled principles of law.”Whether a principle is well-settled, and whether this even matters, often depends on whether one likes the principle involved.These groups often praise judges who blaze new ideological trails, chart new ground and render very unsettling rulings.The bottom line is that Judge Pickering fails his opponents’ ideological litmus test.

As we all know by now, abortion is these groups’ most important litmus test. The New York Times editorialized on Oct. 1 against Judge Pickering because of his “troubling record of opposing abortion rights.”Since Judge Pickering has never ruled on an abortion case, the only such “record” is his personal views.Like millions of Americans (and that number is steadily climbing), Judge Pickering is personally pro-life.So let’s be clear about one thing: At the end of the day, Judge Pickering’s opponents believe that personal opposition to abortion disqualifies him from federal judicial service. I believe that is an unacceptable standard for confirming judges.

All the arguments are on the table.As Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle put it, “In Mr. Pickering’s case, we know the record.” It’s time to vote.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, UtahRepublican, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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