A Report by People For the American Way
The nomination of Charles W. Pickering, Sr. of Mississippi to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has generated significant controversy and concern. Last fall, Judge Pickering's confirmation was opposed by both the Mississippi NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus because of his "career and record on civil rights." The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League also opposed the nomination based on Pickering's "hostility to reproductive rights." On October 15, 2001, a number of other civil rights groups (including People For the American Way) expressed concern about the nomination, noting that several of Pickering's published opinions as a federal trial judge "suggest a hostility to civil and Constitutional rights." The letter also noted that the Fifth Circuit has the largest and most diverse minority population of any Circuit in the country, making the position to which Pickering has been nominated "a critical one for minorities and women."
Accordingly, People For the American Way has extensively reviewed the record of Judge Charles Pickering. We have been guided in that review by the criteria suggested by more than 200 law professors in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in July, 2001. As these professors explained, no federal judicial nominee is presumptively entitled to confirmation. Because federal judicial appointments are for life and significantly affect the rights of all Americans, and because of the Senate's co-equal role with the President in the confirmation process, nominees must demonstrate that they meet the appropriate criteria. These criteria include an "exemplary record in the law," an "open mind to decision-making," a "commitment to protecting the rights of ordinary Americans," and a "record of commitment to the progress made on civil rights, women's rights and individual liberties."
Based on these criteria, People For the American Way has concluded that we must oppose Judge Pickering's confirmation to the Fifth Circuit. Pickering's record, both before and after he became a judge, demonstrates insensitivity and hostility toward key principles protecting the civil and constitutional rights of minorities, women, and all Americans. He has been reversed on a number of occasions by conservative appellate court judges for disregarding controlling precedent on constitutional rights and for improperly denying people access to the courts. Elevating Pickering to a powerful appellate court position would give him enormous influence on the interpretation of statutory and constitutional provisions that safeguard the rights of all Americans. The Senate Judiciary Committee should reject his confirmation.