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Pickering nomination passes Senate committee

WASHINGTON (BP)–Mississippi federal Judge Charles Pickering’s nomination was moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 10-9 party-line vote Oct. 2, nearly two years after he was first nominated by President Bush to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pickering, a Southern Baptist leader in Mississippi, has been bitterly contested by Democrats, who say he is racially insensitive. Democrats stopped his nomination in March 2002 when they controlled the committee, but Bush nominated the judge again in January after Republicans won control of the Senate.

The latest vote came after more than two hours of heated debate between the parties, including remarks by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

“Judge Pickering’s nomination was bad enough and his re-nomination is even worse,” Kennedy said, according to The Washington Times. “It’s hard to believe the president would rather pick a fight than pick a decent judge.”

But Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., defended Pickering’s actions from a 1994 case in which Pickering reduced the sentence of a man convicted of burning a cross on an interracial family’s lawn, which Democrats say shows his racial insensitivity. Pickering said he sought a lighter sentence for the man because others involved in the case were guiltier but received less severe punishment.

“All that Judge Pickering is guilty of is seeking fairness and consistency in sentencing a criminal defendant,” Chambliss said, according to The Times. “Judge Pickering has been victimized by this sort of inaccurate, race-baiting political trash talk.”

Pickering’s opponents have not been satisfied by his testimony against Ku Klux Klan members in the late 1960s.

“Do you know what it must have been like in 1967 to get on the stand and testify against the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi?” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., asked during the debate, according to The Times. “Do you have any idea of the courage that took? Shame on you.”

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. In addition, he served on the Peace Committee that was established in 1985 to address issues related to the struggle between conservatives and moderates.

Pickering has faced attacks by some for his views on the First Amendment and by abortion-rights organizations for his opposition to abortion.

Last year, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called opposition to Pickering “a despicable smear campaign and character assassination.”

Pickering’s nomination now moves to the full Senate, where he must receive 60 votes to overcome a likely filibuster. Democrats already have filibustered the nominations of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor and lawyer Miguel Estrada, who withdrew his nomination in September after repeated filibuster votes.

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