Senator Feingold questioned Judge Pickering about his conduct last October in calling a number of lawyers who practice before him, or who may appear before him in the future, to solicit letters of support for his confirmation. Pickering admitted that he not only had called a number of attorneys with that request, but also that he asked that those letters be sent directly to him. He testified that he read the letters before sending them on to the Justice Department.
Regardless of whether Pickering intended any coercion, this solicitation activity by a sitting judge violates canons of professional responsibility requiring the avoidance of even an appearance of impropriety. It is disturbing that in his testimony, Judge Pickering appeared not to recognize the potential coerciveness and impropriety of a federal judge making such requests of lawyers who know they may appear before him in the future. Even if he is rejected for the 5th Circuit, Pickering will remain a federal district court judge.
Steven Lubet, an ethics expert cited by Legal Times, suggested that Pickering's actions involve a kind of "unintentional coercion" similar to that which can arise when judges solicit lawyers for charitable contributions, which is forbidden by the Code of Conduct for U.S. judges.