Pay-Back: Pickering Dead In The Water!

By Sinclere Lee

Pay-back can be hard medicine to take in the dirty South where crackers like Charles Pickering and Trent Lott have a lot to pay for their racism against their fellow citizens, who just so happen to be Black. For example, less than a year ago, federal judges Charles Pickering of Mississippi looked like a shoo-in for elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals. No longer so, with the help of the NAACP. Pickering's nomination for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans could be all but dead in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

At stake could be the future direction — right or left — for a nearly equally divided Supreme Court as well as the entire federal judiciary.

The judges' patrons were powerful Republican senators — including the then-Senate majority leader — and neither judge was linked to anything particularly controversial.

When Democrats took over the Senate in June, they warned they would be tough on President Bush's judicial nominees they thought too conservative. Democrats said Republicans had thwarted or stalled many of former Democratic President Clinton's nominees with similar tactics when they controlled the Senate.

Also still fresh was the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision six months earlier cutting off ballot recounts in Florida and awarding the White House to Bush.

Republicans readied for battles over appellate nominees such as Miguel Estrada, Jeff Sutton, Michael McConnell and Terrance Boyle, who had connections to Bush or came with strong conservative credentials.

No one should have not expected the furor over Pickering. He's a racist from the South and has already contaminated the federal court system.

Pickering is a former Mississippi prosecutor and lawmaker who easily won Senate confirmation in 1990 for a lifetime appointment as a U.S. District Court judge. Smith was named a U.S. District Court judge in 1988 by former President Reagan.

Liberal groups started issuing news releases almost daily leading up to Smith's confirmation hearing last week. They attacked his handling of conflicts of interests and his interpretations of laws regarding the workplace, the disabled and the environment.

``He is emblematic of President Bush's nominees who will turn back the clock on progress Americans cherish,'' said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice.

Pickering faced the same pattern of criticism. Women's, civil rights and liberal groups attacked positions he took in the past. Democrats interrogated him about efforts to reduce the sentence of a man convicted of burning a cross on an interracial couple's lawn. They questioned the judge about votes against abortion and voting rights as a state senator.

``We think he is a right-wing ideologue,'' said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way.

Pickering's defenders said he has worked for racial harmony in Mississippi, including testifying against the Ku Klux Klan.

``In an effort to rally their troops for the next Supreme Court nomination, they've mounted a smear campaign that portrays Pickering as backward on voting rights, race relations and civil rights generally,'' said John Nowacki of the Free Congress Foundation's Judicial Selection Monitoring Project.

Unless there is a dramatic shift in positions, Pickering appears headed for defeat in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

``I believe that there is virtually unanimous opinion on the Democratic side of the Judiciary Committee that he will not be confirmed,'' said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

That Democrats have that power thanks to the defection from the GOP of Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords last summer. Republicans lost control of the Senate and Democrats now hold a 10-9 majority on the committee.

``I'm not advocating this, but he's got to decide whether he wants to go forward with a vote if the votes aren't there, whether he wants to terminate the process,'' said Pickering's biggest sponsor, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

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