Thursday, December 9, 2004

Charles W. Pickering Sr., whose lengthy fight for a seat on a federal appeals court ended when President Bush elevated him by bypassing Congress, is stepping down.

“My nomination and permanent appointment to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has been pending before the full Senate for more than one year,” Judge Pickering told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Hattiesburg, Miss., yesterday.

“A minority of senators prevented an up or down vote on my nomination. A minority of senators prevented the majority from confirming me to a permanent position on the 5th Circuit.”

After being approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee along party lines, he was filibustered on the Senate floor by a group of Democrats.

A frustrated Mr. Bush sidestepped the Senate and installed Judge Pickering on the court. Under constitutional guidelines on recess appointments, Judge Pickering’s tenure on the court was set to expire as soon as Congress adjourned, which happened Wednesday.

He is among 10 Bush judicial nominees who have been filibustered by Democrats, an issue that was used in the campaign that ousted Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota. The first filibustered nominee — Miguel Estrada for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia — withdrew last year after waiting more than a year for confirmation.

Eight other nominees remain blocked by a group of Democrats and are expected to be renominated by Mr. Bush when the new Congress convenes next month. With the announcement yesterday, Judge Pickering takes himself out of contention.

“My confirmation struggle lasted four years,” he said. “The bitter fight over judicial confirmations threatens the quality and the independence of the judiciary. The mean-spiritedness and lack of civility reduces the pool of nominees willing to offer themselves for service on the bench.”

Judge Pickering, 64, suggested that “President Bush can now nominate someone younger who will serve longer, which I believe is in the best interest of the court.”

Hopeful that the new Congress will bring fresh cooperation on Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees, Senate Republicans were saddened by Judge Pickering’s decision.

“Gradually, everybody has come to see how badly mistreated Judge Pickering was,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee. “It’s a dark day for the Senate. He just got caricatured by the groups.”

Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way, called Judge Pickering’s farewell statement “a graceless goodbye.”

“Charles Pickering repeated the shameful, baseless charge that he was opposed because he has ‘committed religious values,’” Mr. Neas said.

“The truth is that many people of faith opposed his confirmation based on his record as a judge and public official. His partisan, ideological farewell underscores the concerns that were raised about his confirmation.”

Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering Jr., Mississippi Republican and the judge’s son, invoked last month’s election.

“The American people have rejected the politics of filibusters and obstruction over the past two elections, sending a strong message for confirmation reform,” he said. “Those who have filibustered have lost seats, while those who supported my father continue to move forward with a positive agenda for the country.”

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