Pickering's "contacts" with the Commission were hardly "incidental." As a state Senator, he voted twice to appropriate state monies to fund its operations. Moreover, according to a 1972 Commission memorandum publicly released only in the past few years as a result of a court order unsealing the Commission's records, Pickering and two other state legislators were "very interested" in a Commission investigation into union activity that had resulted in a strike against a large employer in Laurel, Pickering's home town. Also according to the same Commission memorandum, Pickering and the other legislators had "requested to be advised of developments" concerning the union investigation, and had requested background information on the union leader. (See, e.g., PFAW Report at 9-10; AFJ Report at 3-4.)
Here again, the concern is not simply Pickering's conduct as a state Senator, but also how he has responded when questioned about this matter by the Judiciary Committee, including at his most recent hearing. When asked at his district court confirmation hearing in 1990 by the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Sovereignty Commission, Pickering denied under oath having had any contact with it. He also told the Committee in 1990, "I know very little about what is in those [Commission] records. In fact, the only thing I know is what I read in the newspapers."
Confronted with the 1972 Commission document that conflicts not only with his 1990 denial of contact with the Sovereignty Commission but also with his professed lack of knowledge about the Commission, Pickering suggested at his February 7, 2002 hearing that he was worried about Ku Klux Klan attempts to infiltrate the union. The Sovereignty Commission, however, worked to infiltrate and spy on civil rights organizations and to obstruct desegregation, hardly the group to which one would turn if concerned about the Klan, as Senator Durbin observed at the February 7 hearing. Moreover, the Commission memorandum itself, which Pickering read before the hearing in order to refresh his recollection, contains no foundation for the suggestion that Pickering's request had anything to do with the Klan. To the contrary, it states that the request from Pickering and the other legislators was to be "advised of developments in connection with SCEF [Southern Conference Educational Fund] infiltration of GPA [Gulfcoast Pulpwood Association] and full background on James Simmons [President of the GPA]." The SCEF was a pro-civil rights group. It appears that Pickering has been less than forthcoming with the Judiciary Committee about this entire matter, and it is that more than the "incident" itself that is so disturbing.