Thursday, May 15, 2003

Republicans plan in coming weeks to take up the nomination of U.S. District Court Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi, who likely faces a filibuster on the Senate floor by Democrats.

Judge Pickering’s nomination to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals was spiked last year on a party-line vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was controlled by Democrats at the time. President Bush renominated him in January.

Democrats rejected the federal judge over his handling of a case in which a cross was burned in the front yard of a black family.

Asked yesterday if Democrats plan a filibuster, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and influential member of the Judiciary panel, replied: “My guess would be yes. Because he was defeated once, I think there is a strong feeling in our caucus.”

That would make the third filibuster lodged against Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees. Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, also nominated to the 5th Circuit, and Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada, nominee to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, are currently being denied a final vote.

Told about Mr. Schumer’s prediction of a filibuster against Judge Pickering, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said in mock surprise, “I’m shocked, shocked to hear they’re thinking of that.”

“After a while, this tactic is going to meet with public rejection,” Mr. Graham said. “It’s very ill-conceived and I hope people sober up over there.”

Judge Pickering is a friend of Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican and former majority leader. He is also the father of Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering Jr., Mississippi Republican.

First nominated two years ago this month, Judge Pickering endured two of the most contentious nomination hearings of Mr. Bush’s nominees. Democrats grilled Judge Pickering about his civil rights record, and the Congressional Black Caucus weighed in against him.

Judge Pickering has garnered some new support.

Jorge C. Rangel, whose nomination by President Clinton to the same court was blocked by Republicans, wrote a letter earlier this year in support of Judge Pickering.

And last week, Mississippi state Rep. Phillip West, leader of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, announced his support for Judge Pickering. But opposition remains.

“There is no change of heart,” said Doug Thornell, spokesman for the Congressional Black Caucus. “We remain opposed to his nomination.”

Others declined to take a stand.

Asked if he supports a filibuster, Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee, paused while waiting for an elevator in the Capitol.

When the elevator doors opened, he stepped inside the car and said, “I was about to give you an answer, but the elevator is here, and now I have to go.”

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