WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush sent the Senate Jan. 7 all 30 federal judicial nominees who were rejected or blocked in the last session, including Charles Pickering of Mississippi whose nomination was bitterly contested.
The president’s renomination of his choices came on the first day of Congress’ new session and elicited promises of opposition from Democratic senators, especially to Pickering. The Democrats, who controlled the Senate and the Judiciary Committee the last 19 months, will have to overcome a Republican majority to turn back Bush’s nominees this time.
The president chose Pickering, a Southern Baptist leader in Mississippi and a federal judge, in 2001 to fill a vacancy on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Judiciary Committee defeated his nomination last year on a 10-9, party-line vote with the Democrats in the majority. The panel refused to send his nomination to the Senate floor even with an unfavorable recommendation.
The committee did the same later with Priscilla Owen, a Texas Supreme Court justice whom Bush also had nominated to the Fifth Circuit.
The other 28 nominees did not receive a committee vote.
The confirmation of Bush’s nominees is a priority in this session for many pro-life/pro-family organizations, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Abortion-rights organizations powered the campaigns against both Pickering and Owen, and civil-right groups and strict church-state separationists also opposed Pickering. Supporters of his confirmation, however, charged the opposition based its campaign on a distortion of Pickering’s record on civil rights and on concerns about future rulings on abortion.
Several Democrats said they were willing to filibuster in order to block confirmation for Pickering and Owen, according to The Washington Post. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., said Pickering’s “record reflects a hostility to civil rights” and Democrats would “use every tool in our arsenal to ensure that his nomination is rejected again this year,” The Washington Times reported.
Rep. Chip Pickering, the judge’s son, told The Times his “father’s record is one of fighting the [Ku Klux] Klan and supporting integration in his children’s schools and working for reconciliation.”
Last year, Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, decried the Judiciary Committee’s refusal to send the nominations of Pickering and Owen to the floor. He called the opposition to Pickering a “despicable smear campaign and character assassination.”
“The attempt to characterize Judge Pickering as a racist is a new low even by the already subterranean standards of recent Senate judicial confirmation processes,” Land said.
It was rumored Bush might not renominate Pickering after the controversy over comments by Sen. Trent Lott led the Mississippi Republican to resign in December as presumptive majority leader. Lott, Pickering’s main supporter in the Senate, received widespread criticism after making statements that were perceived to support segregationist policies of the past.
After his committee defeat last year, Pickering said his “faith has not been weakened” and he would not withdraw his name as a nominee. The White House asked him not to remove his name, his son said.
Pickering, a federal judge in Mississippi’s Southern District for 12 years, is a member of First Baptist Church in Laurel, Miss., and served two years in the mid-1980s as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. He was a member of the Peace Committee that was established in 1985 to address issues related to the controversy at that time in the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Fifth Circuit consists of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The appeals court is based in New Orleans.