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Senate floor vote fails for Pickering confirmation

WASHINGTON (BP)–Charles Pickering’s judicial nomination finally reached the full Senate but, as expected, opponents blocked a confirmation vote.

Senate Republicans sought to break a Democratic filibuster Oct. 30 but fell six votes short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture. The effort to end the delaying tactics resulted in a 54-43 vote. Two Democrats, John Breaux of Louisiana and Zell Miller of Georgia, and independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont joined 51 Republicans in voting for cloture.

Of the three senators who did not vote, only Ben Nelson, D.-Neb., appears to be a likely vote for cloture, leaving Pickering’s supporters at least five votes short of breaking a logjam Democrats seem determined to maintain.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called Pickering a “good and brave man” who is the “latest victim of a blatant and unconstitutional politicization of the confirmation process.”

“It is clear from the cloture vote that if Judge Pickering’s nomination had come up for a vote, he would have been confirmed by a majority of the Senate,” Land said. “I hope Southern Baptists who are as outraged as I am by this disgraceful treatment of a fellow Southern Baptist will let their senators who voted against allowing his nomination to come to a floor vote know just how unhappy they are with the way they voted.”

Pickering, who served two years as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in the mid-1980s, became the fourth federal appeals court nominee unable to be freed for confirmation by a cloture vote in this Congress. The others are Miguel Estrada, nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; Priscilla Owen, a Fifth Circuit nominee; and William Pryor, nominated to the 11th Circuit. After more than two years of waiting for a confirmation vote, Estrada withdrew his name in September.

“Once again, the Democratic minority in the Senate is attempting to impose an unconstitutional requirement for the confirmation of President Bush’s judicial nominees,” Land said. “The Constitution requires a majority of the Senate for confirmation and is quite specific when a super-majority is required. The attempt to impose a new 60-vote requirement for judicial nominees is unprecedented in the two centuries of our nation’s history and is outrageous and unconstitutional obstructionism.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. Zell Miller, D.-Ga., have coauthored legislation, S.R. 138, that would require only a majority to end a filibuster.

Miller said Pickering “has been victimized by inaccurate race-baiting and political trash talk by the news media, members of Congress and Washington’s liberal elite. Judge Pickering’s critics continue to unfairly label him a racist and segregationist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Judge Pickering has long [ago] renounced segregationist views, and he has worked courageously to eliminate racial disparities in Mississippi.”

Bush nominated Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2001. He renominated Pickering in January of this year despite harsh criticism of the federal judge in the last Congress.

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

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.

Among senators voting against cloture were Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Bob Graham and Bill Nelson of Florida, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, and John Rockefeller and Robert Byrd of West Virginia. In addition to Ben Nelson, senators not voting were John Edwards of North Carolina and John Kerry of Massachusetts.

The Fifth Circuit consists of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The court is based in New Orleans.