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FIRST-PERSON Pickering: unjustly maligned

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush’s current record approval rating doesn’t mean that congressional Democrats and their allies are prepared to give him everything he wants. This is especially so in the area of judicial nominations. If they can’t defeat a nominee on the merits, they don’t hesitate to resort to distortion and dishonesty — case in point: Judge Charles W. Pickering, a federal district court judge nominated for a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

There’s no question about his qualifications: Twelve years experience on the federal bench and the American Bar Association’s highest rating.

Pickering, however, has weathered a tough confirmation battle, especially in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where hostile senators have spent days grilling him.

Much of the material being used against the judge comes out of a 35-page report released by the People for the American Way.

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In it, the judge is criticized for his alleged “disregard for the separation of church and state.” As evidence for this disregard, People for the American Way cites what Pickering told a man who was being sentenced for murder, and I quote: “… it is not too late for you to form a new beginning…. You can become involved in Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship or some other ministry, and be a benefit to your fellow inmates and to others and to their families.”

By way of emphasizing the gravity of these alleged offenses against our constitutional order, People for the American Way underlined the sentence with my name in it. In their worldview, Judge Pickering was using his judicial position “to promote the role of religion in a person’s life.”

This is appalling. I never thought I’d see the day that it would be necessary to defend the right of a judge to urge a convicted felon to do something to improve his life. Pickering’s opponents are so driven by ideology that they don’t recognize compassion when they see it. Judge Pickering offered a message of encouragement to a man facing nearly two decades in prison. He wasn’t taking advantage of a vulnerable defendant; he was offering him hope.

Pickering’s actions were not only compassionate; they were smart. According to an independent research study, inmates who attended at least 10 Prison Fellowship Bible studies in a New York prison reduced the recidivism rate from 41 percent to 14 percent — which is amazing.

In their attempt to portray Charles Pickering as a fanatic and an extremist, his opponents end up revealing their depth of fanaticism and extremism. That’s why I want you to do something — to go to a telephone and call your senator. You should also call Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who’s leading the opposition to Judge Pickering. I don’t ask you to do this very often; this is one time you need to make a call.

Judge Pickering has shown a sincere and sustained interest in keeping young Americans out of the criminal justice system and, for that, he is being unjustly maligned. His opponents have not only distorted the judge’s record, they have also turned “advise and consent” to “distort” and “destroy.” For all of our sakes, they ought not to be permitted to succeed.
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Sen. Leahy’s office number is (202) 224-4242. To contact your U.S. senators, call the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Contact the Senate Judiciary Committee by voice (202)224-7703 or by fax (202)224-9516.

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