Charles W. Pickering, Sr.

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On January 16, 2004, President George W. Bush "used the Congressional recess to install Charles W. Pickering, Sr. in a federal appeals court seat from which he had been blocked twice by the Senate because of Democratic opposition."[1]

"Judge Pickering, 66, has served on the Federal District Court in Hattiesburg, Miss., for more than 13 years. Under the Constitution, his new appointment to the Fifth Circuit court, based in New Orleans, lasts until the end of the next Senate session, which is expected to conclude around October, unless he is confirmed by the Senate in the meantime. That prospect is unlikely.[2]
"The Pickering episode is the latest chapter in a long-running war between Republicans and Democrats over judicial nominations. During the 1990's, a Republican-controlled Senate rejected by vote or procedure 114 of President Bill Clinton's nominees to the bench.
"Beyond the Senate battlefield, the new appointment could also have repercussions on a second front, in the coming national elections.
"The debate over the nomination had centered on Judge Pickering's civil rights record as a Mississippi lawyer, state lawmaker and federal judge over the course of decades. Democrats, including several presidential candidates, have portrayed him as insensitive to racial issues, and were quick to charge on Friday that the recess appointment, only three days before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, demonstrated Mr. Bush's own indifference to civil rights.
"'By circumventing the Senate to recess-appoint Charles Pickering,' said the Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, 'the president has confirmed that he has no interest in working in a bipartisan manner to appoint moderate judges who will uphold the law.' ... Mr. Daschle added that 'by taking this step on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the president has shown a shocking disregard for the spirit of the holiday and has betrayed his own words of tolerance.'
"Republicans have depicted the opposition to Judge Pickering as an instance of bias against Southerners, an accusation they used with success in at least one Senate race, in 2002, after Judge Pickering's nomination was first blocked.
"Judge Pickering was nominated to the appeals court soon after Mr. Bush took office. Senate Democrats argued that he did not deserve elevation because he had written an article as a young man recommending ways to strengthen Mississippi's anti-miscegenation laws, left the Democratic Party in 1964 when the national party tried to integrate the state delegation to the national convention and, more recently, presided over a 1994 trial in which he took extraordinary steps to reduce the sentence of a man convicted in a cross-burning incident.
"Mr. Bush and Republican senators replied that the judge's record was being distorted. They said that in recent decades he had been a force for racial reconciliation in his home state and had strong support among local African-Americans. His actions in the cross-burning case, they said, were motivated by a sense that prosecutors had mishandled the case and let the principal offender off lightly."
"While confirmation of Judge Pickering in the coming session is improbable, he could conceivably be renominated should Mr. Bush win a second term and Senate Republicans win a filibuster-proof majority in the next election.
"Reached at his home in Hattiesburg on Friday, Judge Pickering said that he was grateful for the opportunity to serve on the appeals court. By accepting the recess appointment, he leaves his seat on the district court and, if he is not confirmed by the Senate as an appellate judge, will have to retire."

17 January 2004 New York Times Op-Ed: "Mr. Pickering is absolutely the wrong choice for one of the nation's most sensitive courts.

"Mr. Bush claimed that only a 'handful' of senators had opposed Mr. Pickering. The opposition was in fact a good deal broader than that.

"Mr. Pickering was rejected in 2002 by the Judiciary Committee when the Senate was still in Democratic hands. When the same committee, in Republican control, approved him last fall, the nomination was blocked by a filibuster. Another attempt on the president's part to win Senate approval of Mr. Pickering's nomination would almost certainly have produced the same result.

"The reasons are clear enough. Over the years, Mr. Pickering has displayed skepticism toward cases involving civil rights and expressed doubts about well-settled principles like one person one vote. The Senate inquiry into the nomination uncovered troubling questions of judicial ethics. Mr. Pickering took up the case of a man convicted of burning a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple, urging prosecutors to drop a central charge and calling a prosecutor directly. He also seems outside the mainstream on abortion rights.

"Mr. Pickering is not the only hard-right candidate Mr. Bush has pushed for high judicial office. But his nomination was among the most troublesome. As Senator Charles Schumer said, Mr. Bush's decision to bypass the Senate in this manner is 'a finger in the eye' for all those seeking fairness in the nomination process."

Cynthia Moothart observes in Pride before the Fall that

"It was a stunning show of hubris. An act so offensive it should have been unthinkable. Timed to cause the greatest pain and the deepest outrage.
But then it was this president. And it did advance his standing among right-wing extremists.
The recess appointment of Charles W. Pickering Sr. to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is an attack on civil rights and the progress toward social justice made in the last half-century. Equally odious is the timing--Pickering was implanted on the bench as Americans prepared to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr."

SourceWatch Resources

External links

  • Judge Pickering, Again, New York Times Op-Ed, October 1, 2003: Charles W. Pickering, Sr. "of Mississippi, whose nomination for an important federal judgeship was wisely rejected once, is scheduled to be voted on again tomorrow in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate should again refuse to confirm him.... The Bush administration is pushing hard to put Judge Pickering, a federal district court judge, on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas."
  • Neil A. Lewis, Bush Seats Judge, Bypassing Senate Democrats, New York Times, January 17, 2004.
  • A Judicial End Run, New York Times Op-Ed, January 17, 2004.