Senate committee vote delayed; Pickering's approval looks unlikely
Posted on Mar 8, 2002 | by Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP)--The result of a major battle in Capitol Hill's latest war over a judicial nominee has been delayed a week, but the prospect does not look good for a former president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
In a March 7 meeting, the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed by a week a vote on Charles Pickering's nomination as a federal appeals court judge. All 10 Democrats on the 19-person committee have signaled their opposition to Pickering and are expected to vote against his confirmation March 14. Also, Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., has said he will not permit a floor vote on the nominee without the panel's approval.
President Bush nominated Pickering, a federal judge the last 11 years, to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last year, but a strong campaign has been waged against the nominee amid charges and countercharges about his record.
Pickering, a member of First Baptist Church in Laurel, Miss., was president of the state Baptist convention for two years in the mid-1980s. He also was a member of the Peace Committee that was established in 1985 amidst the controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention and that issued a report at the 1987 SBC meeting.
National organizations have attacked Pickering's record on civil rights, abortion rights and church-state separation in an effort to block his confirmation. Among the leaders in the anti-Pickering effort are People for the American Way, the NAACP, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and the National Organization for Women.
Supporters of Pickering's confirmation have charged the opposition campaign is based on a distortion of Pickering's record on civil rights and on concerns about his rulings on abortion rights.
"The despicable smear campaign and character assassination being directed at Judge Pickering is shameful and outrageous," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "It is true that he is a conservative who interprets the Constitution rather than rewriting it, but what does the Senate expect George W. Bush to nominate to the federal judiciary?"
Family Research Council President Ken Connor said in a written release, "For this well-qualified man's nomination to die in Senate committee is to make a mockery of the judiciary."
Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, said in a written statement the country "will have lost a judge of impeccable character, and the left will have destroyed another good man in order to further its ideology" if Pickering is not confirmed.
Meanwhile, People for the American Way President Ralph Neas said in a written release, "Achieving ideological domination of the federal judiciary is the top goal of right-wing activists inside and outside the Bush administration, and judges like Charles Pickering are the means to that end."
NOW President Kim Gandy charged in a written statement Pickering "is not willing to apply the law of the land when it conflicts with his personal opinions or beliefs. Pickering is only one in a long line of ultraconservatives handpicked to reverse women's and other civil rights."
Supporters of the judge's confirmation contend Pickering's civil rights record in Mississippi is a worthy one. Support from some black leaders in Laurel and other parts of the state demonstrate this, they say. James Charles Evers, brother of murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers, wrote a defense of the judge in The Wall Street Journal, citing, among the evidence, Pickering's testimony against the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in 1967.
"The attempt to characterize Judge Pickering as a racist is a new low even by the already subterranean standards of recent Senate judicial confirmation processes," the ERLC's Land said. "This is a man who is supported by African American leaders who know him best, including Charles Evers. This race baiting is terribly unjust to Judge Pickering and brings shame upon those who do it.
"If Judge Pickering were from Minnesota, this wouldn't be happening," Land said. "He is being victimized by the unjust use of the ghosts of Mississippi's past. Judge Pickering's Senate opponents should be embarrassed, but we already know they aren't and won't be. However, their behavior is an embarrassment to the states they represent, and I would encourage all of their constituents to let their senators know just how they feel."
Members of the House and Senate can be reached on Capitol Hill at (202) 224-3121.
Land described Pickering as a "competent judge, upstanding member of his church and well-respected citizen who is known statewide for his work on racial reconciliation."
The ERLC's support for a judicial nominee has not been a common occurrence. The ELRC never endorses candidates for elective office because people have the opportunity to vote, but it sometimes gets involved in the confirmation process when senators, not the voters themselves, are the ones voting, Land said. The ERLC endorsed the confirmation of John Ashcroft for attorney general last year.
Bush has urged Daschle to bring Pickering's nomination to the Senate floor even if the Judiciary Committee votes against confirmation. Such an action has been done in the past, but Daschle said he would not overrule the committee.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals consists of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
Pickering is the father of Rep. Chip Pickering, R.-Miss.