Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Republican leaders, pressed by conservatives furious over the demise of Miguel Estrada’s judicial nomination after a six-month Democratic filibuster, will resurrect the nomination of Mississippi federal Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. tomorrow.

“They’re outraged over it everywhere I go,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “These filibusters are unconscionable.”

The ensuing battle could become one of the most contentious to date with Democrats saying they will likely filibuster Judge Pickering, who was nominated by President Bush to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Pickering, a federal district judge, was first nominated in May 2001. He has had two hearings and was defeated in a party line vote last year when Democrats controlled the committee.

Republicans plan to add Judge Pickering’s nomination to tomorrow’s Judiciary Committee agenda and do not plan to hold additional hearings. Democrats are expected to object, which under rules will postpone the committee vote for one week.

Democrats say Judge Pickering’s record as a district court judge shows a disregard for the civil and constitutional rights of woman and minorities. They regularly cite what they call a lenient sentence he gave a convicted cross burner.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member of the committee, refused to answer questions about his party’s position on Judge Pickering, saying he only speaks for himself. Asked his personal opinion of Judge Pickering, he commented on the sunny weather and slipped behind his bodyguard.

Asked earlier if Democrats will filibuster Judge Pickering, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and architect of the filibusters, said: “My guess would be yes. Because he was defeated once, I think there is a strong feeling in our caucus.”

If filibustered, Judge Pickering would join two other Bush nominees being filibustered by a Democratic minority. Earlier this month, Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada withdrew his name from consideration after being filibustered for six months. A handful of other nominees also are bottled up by Democratic opposition.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday, “There is a great deal of frustration and anger after Estrada.”

At first, he said, many Republican voters weren’t paying attention, thinking the judicial battles were “just an intramural squabble.”

Voters are becoming more aware, Mr. Craig said, after realizing that the filibusters effectively change the requirement for confirmation in the Senate to 60 votes from a simple 51 votes.

“We are not going to let those in opposition to judges define a whole new protocol as to who is eligible to serve,” he said. “Don’t establish a 60-vote standard so somehow you can arbitrarily say you’ve established a precedent from which you can therefore dictate Supreme Court justices. That’s what this whole game is about in reality.”

If Judge Pickering survives in the current Senate, it may be because he’s a longtime friend with Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, who has lobbied hard for his confirmation.

One defector from the usual filibusterers is Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent.

“Trent and I were good friends at one point,” said Mr. Jeffords who left the Republican Party when Mr. Lott was majority leader in 2001 — thereby switching control of the Senate. “I know of his respect for Judge Pickering.”

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