Senate Democrats Block Vote on Pickering Nomination

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - Mississippi federal judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. became the fourth judicial nominee this year to be filibustered by Senate Democrats. His nomination to a federal appeals court was blocked Thursday.

Republicans were unable to muster the 60 votes needed to cut off debate in the Senate. The final vote was 54-43. Last year, when Democrats controlled the Senate, they defeated Pickering's nomination in committee.

"The fact that Republicans insisted on another vote on this nomination does not change the facts," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said in a statement. "His record simply does not justify a promotion."

Pickering joins former Justice Department attorney Miguel Estrada, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen and Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor as the only appeals court nominees to be filibustered. Estrada withdrew his name from consideration in September.

The Senate's vote on Pickering's nomination comes days before Mississippi's gubernatorial election next Tuesday. Republicans are hoping to capitalize on the Democrats' tactics to boost Republican candidate Haley Barbour in his challenge to Democrat Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

President Bush nominated Pickering for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana. Democrats criticized Pickering's record on civil rights, and in particular, a cross-burning case he handled.

"This man's ethical lapses disqualify him from being promoted to the second highest court in the nation," Daschle said.

The conservative Committee for Justice has countered the Democrats' charges, however, and recently released a television commercial with black Mississippians speaking favorably of Pickering.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who plans to press Democrats on several other nominees, defended Pickering's record and accused the judge's opponents of distorting his record.

"In 1967, Charles Pickering testified against the grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan at great personal risk to himself and his family," Frist said before Thursday's vote. "It took great courage and this courage represents that of millions of people of the new South who fought every day in ways small and large to eradicate the errors of the past."

Pickering has endured one of the most prolonged confirmation fights in the Senate. He was first nominated in May 2001, but he never made it out of the Judiciary Committee, which was then controlled by Democrats. Bush re-nominated him after Republicans won control of the Senate in the 2002 elections.

Prior to serving as a federal trial court judge, Pickering was active in Mississippi as chairman of the state Republican Party and president of the Southern Baptists, in addition to holding several positions in the legal arena.

Even though Pickering is opposed by Democrats in the Senate, the people of Mississippi have a much more favorable view of him. Musgrove, who is locked in a close race with Barbour, bucked his party and endorsed Pickering.

After Thursday's vote, the liberal Alliance for Justice praised the filibuster. President Nan Aron said the Bush administration should consult with senators to come up with qualified nominees.

"Fair-minded senators are the last firewall against an administration strategy to pack the courts with extremists beholden to corporate interests and hostile to civil rights and reproductive freedom," Aron said. "They must use every means available to protect our courts and the American people."

Two other nominees - California Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl and California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown - could also be subject to Democrat filibusters.

See Earlier Story:
Dem Opposition to Pickering Could Help GOP in Mississippi
(Oct. 29, 2003)

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