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January 16, 2004
Bush Appoints Pickering To Court, Bypasses Senate

George Bush took the long-overdue step of bypassing the obstructionist minority in the Senate and gave federal Judge Charles Pickering a spot on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals:

Bush installed Pickering by a recess appointment, which avoids the confirmation process. Such appointments are valid until the next Congress takes office, in this case in January 2005. … Pushing for Pickering's confirmation last year, Bush said, "He is a good, fair-minded man, and the treatment he has received by a handful of senators is a disgrace. He has wide bipartisan support from those who know him best."

Pickering has been a target in the Democratic campaign to curtail Bush’s prerogative in appointing federal judges and appellate justices, and Pickering may have been the most ill-treated of them all. Democrats accused Pickering of being a racist – a characteristic hotly disputed by colleagues of all backgrounds, including James Charles Evers, the brother of martyred civil-rights activist Medgar Evers:

As someone who knows Judge Pickering and is familiar with his commitment on matters of race, I could not sit by and watch these groups' attempts to destroy a good man. Let me tell you about the Charles Pickering many of us in Mississippi have known for well over 30 years. …

In 1967, many locally elected prosecutors in Mississippi looked the other way when faced with allegations of violence against African-Americans and those who supported our struggle for equal treatment under the law. Mr. Pickering was a locally elected prosecutor who took the stand that year and testified in a criminal trial against the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who was accused of firebombing a civil rights activist. …

Since he was selected and confirmed to the federal bench in 1990, Judge Pickering has continued to amass a record of working to improve race relations in Mississippi and throughout the U.S. After President Clinton held a town hall meeting on race at the University of Mississippi in 1998, Mr. Pickering and Gov. William Winter led the effort to encourage Chancellor Robert Khayat to establish the Institute of Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss.

Judge Pickering sat on the executive committee of the institute, whose goal is to promote understanding and goodwill between people of different races. Mr. Khayat also chose Mr. Pickering to serve on the institute's board of directors, not only because of his role in helping to shape its mission, but also because he has led a life which exemplifies the institute's primary objective--eliminating racism.

If you believe in equal justice and promotion of diversity, it would seem to me that Charles Pickering would be a terrific appellate justice. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats have decided to take one isolated case, take it completely out of context, and smear Judge Pickering as a racist in defiance of the entirety of his body of work. Ted Kennedy thunders against his nomination because of United States vs Swan, a case where Judge Pickering felt that sentencing a first-time offender who drove a car for two cross-burners to seven years was Draconian. Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice – hardly a right-wing bastion – explains why Democrats and lazy journalists got the story wrong:

Three white men burned a cross in front of the home of a white man and his black wife in a rural Mississippi county. The prosecutors in the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division made a plea bargain, with no jail time, for two of the defendants. One was the ringleader, a 17-year-old (whose name was not disclosed because he's a juvenile); he pleaded guilty. Also given a deal because of his very low IQ was 25-year-old Mickey Herbert Thomas; he pleaded guilty as well.

The third defendant, 20-year-old Daniel Swan, owned the pickup truck used in the crime. He refused to plead guilty, so the federal prosecutors insisted that he be imprisoned for seven and a half years under the federal hate-crimes statute. …

Therefore, notes York, "When it came time to sentence Swan, Pickering questioned whether it made sense that the most guilty defendant got off with a misdemeanor and no jail time, while a less guilty defendant would be sentenced to seven and a half years in prison."

After convincing federal prosecutors to drop their demand to have Swan sentenced under hate-crime regulations, Pickering sentenced Swan to twenty-seven months in prison, not exactly displaying a “soft spot for cross burners,” as Maureen Dowd accuses from her perch at the New York Times.

Today, Democrats responded predictably:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean condemned the timing of the appointment, just one day after Bush visited the grave site of the slain civil rights leader. The nation marks the anniversary of King's birth on Monday.

"I think the president's appointment of Charles Pickering to a recess appointment is an ultimate hypocrisy,'' Dean said while campaigning in Iowa. "Yesterday he went and saluted Dr. King's birthday. Today he appoints a racist to the Supreme Court.''

Dean immediately corrected himself, saying he meant to say the federal bench, not the Supreme Court [emphasis mine].

Senator Lieberman said that Bush’s action today showed “a lack of respect for the judicial approval process,” in a classic case of projection. It’s the Democrats who have shown a lack of respect for the process, hijacking it in order to deprive this President of the prerogative and the duty of filling vacancies on the federal bench and smearing good people like Charles Pickering, Miguel Estrada, and Janice Rogers Brown. It’s just another reason why Republicans need to work hard to secure more Senate seats in the next Congress so that these petty and destructive games will finally stop.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 16, 2004 7:32 PM

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» PICKERING RECESS APPOINTMENT from Patterico's Pontifications
President Bush has named Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit in a recess appointment, according to a story in the Associated Press. I am generally wary of recess appointments, but I lean towards approving of them under current circumstances, given... [Read More]

Tracked on January 16, 2004 11:23 PM

» Miscellania from PunditFilter
Upper Left says Dean is neither Nice Howard nor Mad Howard, but Bi-polar Howard. The Captian looks at Bush's appointment of Pickering to the Court of Appeals. Ted Belman at Israpundit posts Gil Troy's essay "Liberal Nationalism." Stephen Green has some... [Read More]

Tracked on January 17, 2004 7:29 PM

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