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Recess appointment: Bush names Pickering to appeals court

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush used his recess appointing power Jan. 16 to install Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in a move sure to draw criticism from Democrats.

The recess appointment means that Pickering — who had been filibustered by Senate Democrats — will serve until January 2005, when the next Congress is sworn in, the Associated Press reported. Until then, Pickering’s appointment will not have to be confirmed.

“I’m grateful to the president for his continued confidence and support,” Pickering told AP. “I look forward to serving on the Fifth Circuit.”

Pickering is one of six Bush nominees who have been filibustered by Senate Democrats. All have received enough votes for confirmation but not enough votes to overcome the filibuster.

Needing 60 votes to stop the filibuster and end debate, Pickering received 54 votes in October.

“I like President Bush’s style,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press. “He’s not allowing a small clique of radical liberal senators who are seeking to use the filibuster rules to subvert the constitutional process to keep him from performing his constitutional duty to put well-qualified judges on the appeals courts of the nation.

“Judge Pickering should long before now have been confirmed, and I am grateful that President Bush is using this resource available to him to allow Judge Pickering to serve his country and the American people on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Abortion-rights, civil-rights and some church-state organizations have fueled the campaign against Pickering. Supporters of his confirmation, however, have charged the opposition with basing its campaign in large part on a distortion of Pickering’s record on civil rights early in his career. Pickering’s supporters have said he took what was a dangerous stand on race relations at that time — testifying against an imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in 1967.

Bush is by no means the first president to use a recess appointment. Former President Clinton used a recess appointment for a homosexual activist and philanthropist, James Hormel, as ambassador to Luxembourg, among numerous others to various posts, including at least one judge to a federal appeals court, who otherwise would have required Senate confirmation.

Pickering, a federal judge in Mississippi’s Southern District for 12 years, is a member of First Baptist Church in Laurel, Miss. He was a member of the Peace Committee established in 1985 to address issues related to the theological controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention at the time.

Pickering also served two years in the mid-1980s as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is based in New Orleans covering the states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“I remain hopeful,” Land said, “that the American people will soon demand an end to the constant obstructionism being practiced through the Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Tom Daschle liberal clique in Washington, D.C.”

Pickering, when first nominated to the appeals court in 2001, quickly encountered opposition particularly in regard to race relations. His nomination was rejected in a 10-9 party-line vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2002 when Democrats held a majority in the upper chamber.

“Although I am disappointed, I am in good spirits,” Pickering said after the vote. His faith, he said, had not been weakened.

“I will not let what has happened to me during this process embitter me or shape the balance of my life. Life is too precious.

“I am extremely disturbed that judicial confirmation has degenerated into such a bitter and mean-spirited process. I sincerely hope that no other nominee has to go through what has happened to me. The price of public service should not be so high.”

Pickering said he was “touched and humbled that those who know me best, my friends and neighbors in Mississippi, both African American and white, both Democrat and Republican … defended my record in such a gracious and magnanimous way.”

Joe McKeever, pastor of First Bapitst Church in Kenner, La., and a former pastor in Mississippi, said he first met Pickering in the 1970s, describing him in a Baptist Press first-person piece as “a young county attorney [who] was distinguishing himself by standing up for racial justice. Charles was a deacon and Sunday School teacher in his local church. He even took on the KKK by testifying in court against Sam Bowers, imperial wizard of the White Knights of the KKK, in the firebombing death of a civil rights activist named Vernon Dahmer. … One did not decide to speak out against these people lightly. Some of them might be sitting in your church on Sunday or living next door to you. Charles did speak up, and for his troubles was defeated in the next election.

“Over the years, Charles continued to forge a record of courageous leadership in many areas, particularly in the matter of racial reconciliation,” McKeever wrote. “Once, he gave the address at the annual meeting of the state chapter of the NAACP. At a time when politicians would talk out of both sides of their mouths — getting with the good old boys and smiling at their bigotry, meeting with the activists and pledging support for their agenda — Charles did not play that game. He set a high standard of integrity and courage.”

McKeever, describing the Judiciary Committee Democrats’ deliberations, said, “Incredibly, they accused him of racism. They did this, in spite of his courageous record through the years and the array of African American leaders from Mississippi who journeyed to Washington to support his nomination.”

McKeever observed, “This country is littered with the bodies of veterans of confirmation hearings who were so savagely beaten up and scarred that they vowed never again to subject themselves to this ordeal of fire. But Charles Pickering is no stranger to fire. He has walked through hotter flames than this.”

Pickering’s son, Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., said of those who targeted his father over race relations, “The reality is, not one member on that committee risked his life and career for the voting rights of African Americans. My father’s life was threatened. His family’s safety was threatened. He lost his next political race. Not one member of that committee … has demonstrated the commitment to bring better race relations and racial reconciliation to their communities and state [that] my father has.”
With reporting by Michael Foust, Tom Strode & Art Toalston.

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