Nominee’s record both before and after becoming a federal judge has generated widespread opposition to his elevation to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit
People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas urged Senate Judiciary Committee members to carefully consider the public record of Judge Charles Pickering and to reject his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
"Judge Charles Pickering should not be elevated to the appeals court and the Senate Judiciary Committee should reject his nomination," said Neas. "His actions over the past decade as a federal judge and his long public record before that reflect a troubling lack of commitment to fundamental civil and constitutional rights principles."
Neas noted that Pickering’s public record has generated opposition to his confirmation from a broad range of civil rights and other public interest organizations, including the NAACP chapter in Pickering’s home state of Mississippi and the Magnolia Bar Association, the state’s predominantly African American bar group. People For the American Way has published a review of Pickering’s record, as have a number of other public interest organizations.
Because many opponents of Pickering’s confirmation have focused on his troubling civil rights record, said Neas, some Pickering supporters have claimed that his opponents are smearing him as a racist. Neas said People For the American Way has clearly documented that its opposition to Pickering’s elevation to the appeals court is grounded solidly in his public record. "We cannot know what is in Pickering’s heart," said Neas. "But we do know what is in his record. And that is why we are opposing his confirmation to the federal appeals court."
Among the concerns raised by PFAW and other opponents of Pickering’s confirmation:
His record demonstrates insensitivity and hostility toward key principles and remedies that safeguard civil rights, and indifference toward the problems caused by laws and institutions that have previously created and perpetuated discrimination.
Even conservative appellate court judges have reversed Judge Pickering on a number of occasions for violating "well-settled principles of law" involving constitutional rights and other matters, and for improperly denying people access to the courts. Another Bush nominee to the 5th Circuit, the recently confirmed Edith Brown Clement, had no such reversals during her tenure as a district judge.
As a state senator, Pickering co-sponsored and voted for measures harmful to minority voting rights, including a resolution calling on Congress to repeal or weaken key provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act. And as a federal judge, Pickering has gone out of his way to criticize key civil rights principles like "one person-one vote" and to repeatedly disparage plaintiffs in civil rights cases.
Pickering testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had had no contact with the infamous Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which opposed desegregation and infiltrated civil rights organizations to disrupt their efforts. In fact, Pickering went into law practice with a well-known defiant segregationist who served as a member of the Commission for part of the time he was Pickering’s law partner. In the state legislature, Pickering twice voted to fund the Commission.
In addition, a recently unsealed Commission document states that "Senator Charles 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. Some Pickering supporters have suggested that he was concerned about Ku Klux Klan involvement in union violence. The Commission memorandum, however, contains no foundation for such speculation. 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]."
As a law student, Pickering wrote a law review article advising the Mississippi legislature how it could fix a loophole in its law penalizing interracial marriage in order to make the law enforceable. The next year, legislators enacted his recommendations. Although Pickering now says he does not think there should be legal obstacles to interracial marriage, when questioned about the article by the Senate Judiciary Committee he did not repudiate it and tried to brush it aside as an "academic exercise."
Pickering has opposed Roe v. Wade and the Equal Rights Amendment. He was chair of the Republican Party platform committee that first added an anti-Roe plank to the party platform. His strident anti-choice position is especially troubling in the 5th Circuit, where women’s reproductive rights have already been eroded.
He has inappropriately used his position on the bench to promote involvement in religious programs by people before him for sentencing.
Neas said Pickering’s record makes him an especially problematic choice for the 5th Circuit, which presides over a three-state area with the largest and most diverse minority population in any Circuit in the country, and which has already decided a number of cases restricting civil and reproductive rights.
Neas said the grassroots effort to defeat Pickering’s nomination would be the first of many unless President Bush engages in genuine bipartisan dialogue with members of the Senate. Neas urged senators, especially members of the Judiciary Committee, to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities to carefully scrutinize judicial nominees and reject those who have not demonstrated a commitment to upholding civil rights.
"Right-wing senators perpetuated dozens of appeals court vacancies by carrying out an unprecedented ideological blockade against judges nominated by President Clinton," said Neas. "Now they hope President Bush will take advantage of those vacancies to fill the appeals courts with right-wing nominees like Charles Pickering."
Neas noted that 35 percent of President Clinton’s appellate court nominees were blocked from 1995-2000; 45 percent failed to receive a vote in the Congress during which they were nominated. Republican-nominated judges currently hold a majority on seven of the 13 circuit courts. If all President Bush’s current nominees are approved, such judges will make up a majority on 11 circuit courts. And by the end of 2004, Republican-appointed judges could make up a majority on every one of the 13 circuit courts.
"A federal judiciary completely dominated by right-wing judges would be a disaster for Americans’ rights and freedoms," said Neas. "Senators must be willing to say no to Judge Pickering and they must be willing to say no to right-wing efforts to pack the federal judiciary."
For a copy of People For the American Way’s report on Charles Pickering and other information on the federal judiciary, see www.pfaw.org/issues/democracy/judiciary.shtml.