Bush Renominates Judge Pickering

In a January 6 fundraising appeal (sorry, "news alert"), People for the American Way warned that Armageddon is approaching. With President Bush’s renomination the next day of the 31 nominees blocked last year by the Democrats, including Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen, Armageddon is upon us.

The 14 Appeals Court nominees have already languished an average of more than 500 days. The confirmation rate for President Bush’s Appeals Court nominees was 42% less than for previous Presidents and vacancies have averaged 50% higher than during the Clinton years.

Leftists helped Judiciary Committee Democrats prevent the full Senate from voting on nominees at all. They kept 11 of these renominees off the Senate floor by refusing hearings and another by refusing to vote. They kept two others, 5th Circuit nominees Pickering and Owen, from the Senate floor by voting them down in committee. Only six nominees in 60 years have met that fate, five in a Democratic Senate.

Since these tactics are no longer available, Democrat senators will try to use the filibuster to keep the Senate from voting on Judge Pickering. Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) has promised to do "everything I can" to block the nomination.

The leftist mantra is that Pickering is "hostile to civil rights." He is certainly not personally hostile. As a local prosecutor 35 years ago, he testified against the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and helped the FBI investigate others, at great risk to himself and his family, while costing his re-election. He chaired a race relations committee in his home county in the 1980s and has served on the board of the University of Mississippi’s Institute for Racial Reconciliation since the 1990s.

Nor is he judicially hostile. The liberal American Bar Association examines a nominee’s "compassion . . . freedom from bias, and commitment to equal justice under law" and gave Pickering its highest "well-qualified rating." So what is left to back up this "hostile to civil rights" charge?

Leftists cite just one of more than 4,000 cases Pickering has handled, in which three men burned a cross in the yard of a racially mixed couple. For whatever reason, the Justice Department let two defendants cop pleas with nothing but community service, but demanded more than seven years in prison for the third, Daniel Swan.

This was the greatest disparity in sentence recommendations Pickering had ever seen in this kind of case. And Daniel Swan was the least culpable perpetrator, a first-time offender with no background of racism or grudge against the victims. One of the defendants let off the hook not only had a history of racism but also had fired a bullet into the couple’s home.

Pickering had to address this disparity. He had to address why the most culpable, the most racist, defendant got the lightest treatment. In the end, he still sent Swan to prison for more than three years. Prof. Michael Krauss, a legal ethics experts, later reviewed how Pickering handled this case and concluded that his judicial behavior was "not unethical or in any way unbecoming of a member of the judiciary."

Now comes Schumer on January 8 saying that Pickering had "assisted a criminal defendant" in order to "get a lighter sentence for a convicted cross burner." He said Pickering "lobbied prosecutors to reduce the sentence." This grotesque distortion of the truth has only one purpose: to suggest that Pickering is a racist who wanted to get a cross burner off the hook.

That’s not just a distortion, it’s a lie and a filthy one at that. No wonder that even the liberal Washington Post said the first attack on Judge Pickering was "the latest example of the degradation of the confirmation process."

If Armageddon is upon us, so be it. The good guys win.