September 23, 2003
Hon. Orrin Hatch, Chair
Hon. Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member
Senate Judiciary Committee
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Hatch and Senator Leahy:
I am writing on behalf of People For the American Way and our more than 600,000 members and supporters across the country to reiterate in the strongest possible terms our continuing opposition to the confirmation of Judge Charles W. Pickering to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. As the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded last year, Pickering’s troubling record does not warrant his elevation to a lifetime position on the court of appeals.
The Committee’s decision followed an exhaustive examination and two hearings on Pickering’s record, both before and after becoming a judge. Far from reflecting the commitment to fundamental constitutional and civil rights principles that should be required of federal judicial nominees, that record demonstrates insensitivity and hostility toward key legal principles protecting the civil and constitutional rights of minorities, women, and all Americans. For example, Pickering’s record includes what the NAACP has called a “troubling anti- civil rights pattern” of such conduct as severely criticizing key civil rights principles and disparaging plaintiffs in civil rights cases. Pickering’s rulings in a number of cases involving constitutional and other issues have been reversed by even conservative appellate court judges for violating “well-settled principles of law.” In addition, Pickering has engaged in what several legal ethics experts called unethical conduct in seeking a more lenient sentence for a defendant convicted in a cross-burning case.
Despite President Bush’s frequent claim that he is a “uniter, not a divider,” he has re-nominated Judge Pickering to the Fifth Circuit. He has done this despite the troubling information that has come to light about Judge Pickering’s record. He has done this despite the fact that, to our knowledge, no previous president has so disregarded Congress and re-nominated a federal judicial nominee who has been rejected in one Congress for the same position. Chairman Hatch has now exacerbated matters and scheduled a vote on Judge Pickering’s highly controversial re-nomination with only two days’ notice to the Committee’s members.
As reflected in our enclosed reports and editorial memoranda in opposition to Judge Pickering’s confirmation, Judge Pickering’s disturbing record exemplifies this Administration’s efforts to appoint judges who are far out of the mainstream to lifetime seats on the federal bench. We are aware of nothing that has altered Judge Pickering’s record since the Committee’s vote to reject his confirmation to the Fifth Circuit. The Committee should once again say no to the nomination, and should urge the President to engage in bipartisan cooperation on judicial nominations rather than try to pack the federal courts with judges who will turn back the clock on the rights of all Americans.
Ralph G. Neas