Editorial Memorandum: Opposition to Judge Pickering and Charges of Irresponsiblity and Race-Baiting

Supporters of Judge Pickering's confirmation and some journalists have falsely portrayed opponents of Pickering's confirmation as accusing him of being a racist. In addition, Pickering's "complicated" history on race, including his testimony against a Kla

The Facts

As an examination of the various organizations' reports readily reveals, our organizations have not accused Judge Pickering of being a racist. We cannot and do not know what is in Judge Pickering's heart. We can only look at his record. We have done that and discussed it at length. It is Pickering's own record, particularly as a state senator and as a federal judge, that fails to satisfy the criteria for elevation to the Fifth Circuit.

Some have argued that Pickering's voting record as a state senator on civil rights simply reflects the era and the records of his colleagues. But in some respects, Pickering was a leader as a state senator. For example, he cosponsored an anti-Voting Rights Act resolution and harmful voting legislation that was blocked by the Department of Justice. The fact that some of Pickering's contemporaries may have equally unattractive records is hardly a reason to elevate Pickering to the 5th Circuit. Moreover, as our various reports have demonstrated, Pickering's record as a state senator on voting rights issues presaged his judicial record on these issues and properly informs the decision as to his confirmation.

Moreover, caution should be exercised lest one read too much into past acts now been cited by Pickering's supporters, particularly Pickering's brief testimony in a 1967 trial against a leader of the Klan. There is no dispute that this was a commendable and courageous act. But the act itself does not mean, as some Pickering supporters have suggested, that Pickering has been a champion of civil rights, or even that the testimony was motivated by opposition to the Klan's defense of segregation. In fact, it appears from a book written by Chet Dillard, one of Judge Pickering's supporters, that growing Klan violence was threatening the business establishment in Laurel, Pickering's home town. Dillard's book also includes the following portion of a public statement regarding Klan violence issued in the mid-1960s by the local District Attorney (Dillard), the sheriff of Jones County, the Mayor of the City of Laurel, the county attorney (identified elsewhere in Dillard's book as Charles Pickering) and the Laurel Chief of Police:

    We, the undersigned elected officials and public officers charged with the responsibility of protecting you and your property, wish to publicly state and make known our position and intentions concerning certain acts of violence which have recently taken place in Jones County. While we believe in continuing our Southern way of life and realize that outside agitators have cause [sic] much turmoil and racial hatred, let there be no misunderstanding, we oppose such activities, but law and order must prevail.

    W.O. Dillard, Clear Burning, at 119.

In any event, in evaluating Pickering's commitment to civil rights legal principles and hence his qualifications for a lifetime appointment to the Court of Appeals, of far greater relevance than such conduct as his Klan testimony 35 years ago is how he has handled broader civil rights issues as a state senator and then as a federal trial judge. In those important and influential public positions, Pickering has been sorely wanting, as his record and his confirmation hearings reveal.

It is on that record that our organizations have properly focused, and it is on the basis of that record that we have concluded that Pickering should not be confirmed.

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