- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

A group of Senate Democrats yesterday ignored weeks of intense pleading and lodged a filibuster against Judge Charles W. Pickering of Mississippi, their fourth against one of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

The filibustering Democrats accused Judge Pickering of being a segregationist throwback with little sensitivity toward blacks.

“I think today’s vote is in the best traditions of America,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

In a 54-43 vote, Republicans fell six votes shy of the 60 required to force a final vote by the full Senate on Judge Pickering’s nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Democrats have blocked a Senate vote on Judge Pickering for more than two years. His supporters denounced the filibustering Democrats for “race baiting” and called yesterday’s vote “a disgrace.”

The judge’s supporters cautioned against further deterioration of the judicial nominations process and warned that yesterday’s vote would damage Mississippi’s Democratic governor, who faces a tough re-election battle next week.

“Judge Charles Pickering has been victimized by inaccurate race-baiting and political trash talk by the news media, members of Congress and Washington’s liberal elite,” said Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat. “Judge Pickering’s critics continue to unfairly label him a racist and segregationist. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mr. Miller said few people could possibly understand how “courageous” Judge Pickering — currently a federal district judge — had been to publicly oppose segregation and testify against a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1967.

In addition to Mr. Miller, Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, and Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent, voted with Republicans. Skipping the vote were Democratic Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

One Democrat who voted for the filibuster, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, said Judge Pickering “has often been hostile to plaintiffs bringing civil rights claims. He has questioned the value of important constitutional protections.”

Some Democrats accused Republicans of planning the vote for yesterday to have the best impact on Mississippi’s gubernatorial election Tuesday, when Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, will face Republican challenger Haley S. Barbour.

“I don’t know of any issue that has united the people of Mississippi any more,” Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said of the Pickering nomination. “If you had taken a vote on the ballot of the people of Mississippi, Judge Pickering would have gotten 85 percent of the vote. A lot of people are generally just mad.”

In other developments, the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved New York Judge Dora L. Irizarry to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Mr. Schumer applauded Mr. Bush and heralded Judge Irizarry as a “consensus nominee” whom Democrats and Republicans alike could support. But investigations by the American Bar Association and the New York Bar Association found a litany of problems with her nomination and deemed her unqualified for the federal bench.

Nevertheless, just moments after Judge Pickering’s nomination was blocked on the Senate floor, the committee approved Judge Irizarry on a voice vote.

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