February 12, 2002

Don’t confirm Pickering: Appeals court nominee carries too much baggage
A Register-Guard Editorial

Charles Pickering, a federal trial judge in Mississippi and now President Bush’s nominee for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has become something of a political lightning rod.

This, of course, is the intent of the Democrats. Any nominee submitted that will not pass muster with the far-left wing of the party will be vigorously opposed.

Civil rights and pro-choice advocates strongly oppose his nomination. Some Democrats are raising questions about a possible violation of the judicial canon of ethics because of a phone call Pickering made to one party in a 1994 trial over a cross-burning incident.

If the editor had taken the time to get the details of what transpired, this might not have been such a big deal. The Reno Justice Department had cut a deal with the other two defendants which allowed them to avoid long sentences even though at least one of them was the clear ringleader. Judge Pickering called the Justice Dept to ask why his requests for information were not being answered.

Conservatives and, most particularly, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.,(obligatory bogey-man alert) strongly support the nominee as a principled, courageous judge.

On the civil rights front, Pickering’s opponents have reached back to 1959,
when Pickering was a law student and wrote a three-page note for the school’s
law review, pointing out flaws in Mississippi’s anti-miscegenation law
prohibiting marriages between blacks and whites. The note said that the law was
vulnerable unless the state legislature made changes. The suggested changes
were made.

Flash! Editor to U of O Law School: Law students will no longer be allowed to criticize laws they disagree with.

Questions have also been raised (good way to get a slam in without attributing it to anyone.) about an alleged connection in the 1960s to the notorious Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, which sought to maintain segregation in the state. Pickering has said he had no contact with the commission, but a document disclosed in 1998 showed that, as a state senator, he asked a commission official to inform him of labor unrest in his home county.

It is of no importance that the labor union in question was controlled by members of the Ku Klux Klan and were intimidating black employees.

And, finally, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., raised the ethics issue relating to the phone call.

Though exactly whether a millionaire trial-lawyer has any standing to talk about ethics is not clear.

Pickering’s supporters told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Pickering was not and had never been a racist and that it was unfair to reach back 40 years to find fault. Others (we won’t talk about them. It would weaken our argument). said the judge had helped, not hindered, the recruitment of black Mississippians to run for public office. And Pickering himself testified at the committee’s confirmation hearing that he didn’t consider his phone call to the U.S. Justice Department to complain about a mandatory five-year sentence for the cross-burner to be a violation of judicial ethics.

The Pickering nomination is seen as a precursor to later Bush nominees to the federal bench. With Democrats in control of the Senate and willing to use any pretext to smear his nominees, the president would do well – for himself and for the country – to choose middle-of-the-road (not an overt Socialist) nominees and not conservative ideologues (liberal ideologues are O.K.). Lott’s support for Pickering will certainly help the nominee on the political front, but what’s at stake here is the judiciary, not hometown buddies and political cronies (Unless they’re OUR hometown buddies and loyal Democratic party cronies.)

Charles Pickering’s background suggests a mixed view on race, an inability to bow to the tenents of political correctness, a strong opposition to women’s right to choose an abortion even post-term abortion in Andrea Yate’s case , a possible fib about his connection to the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission (That’s right! The Sovereignty Commission was comprised of good Democrats and it is never, never allowable to oppose Democrats.) and a relaxed view of judicial ethics (I like that. Ethical millionaire trial lawyer politician. Are you guys really writing for South Park?). None of that adds up to a good reason to put him on the appeals court that covers Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. If anything, it adds up to a reason to reject his nomination. The Senate should do just that.

The interesting thing is, that there have been some very good rebuttals to this editorial published before it was written. (Supposing, of course, that it was actually written by the newspaper editors and not spoon-fed to them.)

James Charles Evers, the brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, wrote a in depth rebuttal to all these charges in the Wall Street Journal. Of course, reading that would entail reading publications that are not on the party approved reading list. It would also require giving credence to a black man who has clearly left the confines of the Democratic plantation. My already low opinion of the Register-Guard has not been helped by this editorial.