Senate Judiciary Committee Stops Pickering Nomination

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - Ten Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have successfully stopped the nomination of Charles Pickering to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, defying the president's call for a vote in the full Senate.

In a series of three roll call votes Thursday evening, the committee voted 10 to 9 along party lines not to report Pickering's nomination to the full Senate favorably, or to refer the nomination with no recommendation, or even to refer the nomination with a negative recommendation.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Pickering lacks the "temperament, the moderation or the commitment to core constitutional ... protections that is required for a life tenure position" on the appeals court.

"Here's a man who did everything right. Here's a man who had a heart. This is a man who's for the little guy," Utah Sen. Orin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the committee said of Pickering. "They [Democrats] tried to brand him as everything from a racist to somebody who would not obey the law, with no justification whatsoever."

Hatch says he's disappointed that the committee was even unwilling to send the nomination up for Senate consideration with a negative referral, as the committee has done in the past when he was chairman.

The nominee's son, Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering (R-Miss.), was present for the hearings. He says he finds little comfort in the fact that committee Democrats admitted in the hearing that his father is not a racist.

"I hope that, regardless of whether my father's nomination continues to go forward both parties could step back, reform the process, reach agreement on how nominations will be held in the future," he said. "I do think it is a very dangerous precedent to misinterpret the 'advise and consent' clause of the Constitution to mean ten senators can stop a nomination."

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm specializing in constitutional law, agrees with Rep. Pickering. He says a small number of Senate Democrats have "subverted the Constitution."

"It is clear there is a strategy to reject well qualified judicial nominees presented by the president. It is disturbing that the political and ideological leanings of a few can derail a constitutional process that is vital to our system of justice," he added.

"The Senate must move beyond the politically motivated actions of a few and act in a fair and balanced manner respecting the Constitution and America's judicial system," Sekulow said.

Hatch is not optimistic about the potential for using a discharge petition to force the nomination out of the committee, the only remaining option to bring Pickering's confirmation up for a full Senate vote.

"No, I think we're going to have to submit another name," he concluded.

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