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January 17, 2004
Pickering: The Smear Continues

After my post yesterday on the recess appointment of Charles Pickering to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, a lot of the buzz from the left side of the blogosphere has been about Pickering's purported "perjury" in 1990 while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. So far, this has mostly manifested itself in the comments section at various blogs, including at Blogs for Bush, but most of the impetus comes from People For The American Way, a radical and hysterical leftist political action group:

Moreover, evidence indicates Judge Pickering did have contact with the Sovereignty Commission. At the time of Judge Pickering's 1990 confirmation hearing, the records of the Sovereignty Commission were still sealed, pursuant to the legislature's directive. However, several years ago, in response to litigation, the courts in Mississippi ordered that the Commission records be made public. A review of those records has uncovered documents indicating contact between Pickering and the Commission. A memorandum by a Commission investigator to the Director of the Commission dated January 5, 1972 stated that "Senator Charles Pickering" and two other state legislators were "very interested" in a Commission investigation into union activity that had resulted in a strike against a large employer in Laurel, Pickering's home town. Also according to this memorandum, Pickering and the other legislators had "requested to be advised of developments" concerning infiltration into the union, and had requested background information on the union leader. Memorandum from Edgar C. Fortenberry to W. Webb Burke (January 5, 1972), at 3. Subsequent memoranda written in 1972 by the same investigator indicate follow-up activities of the nature identified in the January 5, 1972 memorandum. Particularly in light of his 1990 testimony, Pickering's votes in favor of funding the Sovereignty Commission and his other apparent involvement with it are extremely disturbing.

Before this particular meme picks up any speed at all, however, perhaps a look at the facts would be in order. Byron York wrote an excellent and comprehensive article on the entire Pickering smear almost two years ago for the National Review. York reports:

Another PFAW criticism of Pickering on the issue of race concerns the question of whether he ever had any "contact" with Mississippi's racist Sovereignty Commission. The commission, which received state funds, had been created to resist desegregation in the days immediately following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. It had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, fell into disarray in the early 1970s, and was abolished in 1977. At his confirmation hearings in 1990, Pickering told the Senate that, "I never had any contact with [the commission] and I had disagreement with the purposes and the methods and some of the approaches that they took....This commission had, in effect been abolished for a number of years. During the entire time that I was in the State Senate [Pickering served as a state senator from 1972 until 1978], I do not recall really the commission doing anything. It was already de facto abolished. It was just not functioning."

The PFAW report says that in fact Pickering had a brief conversation, in 1972, with a commission staffer, and thus, contrary to his testimony, he had indeed had "contact" with the commission. In the conversation, Pickering is said to have asked the staffer for information about a labor dispute in Jones County, Mississippi. It appears that Pickering had, by the time of his 1990 confirmation hearings, forgotten about the conversation, but in any event it appears the substance of the conversation concerned not any sort of racial bias on Pickering's part but rather his worries about violence committed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Chet Dillard, the former district attorney of Jones County, has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Pickering was worried about a labor dispute at a Masonite plant in which "union members who were also members of the KKK shot into and burned homes in the middle of the night and brutally beat up workers....As a state senator representing Jones County, Charles Pickering had every reason to be concerned about further union violence involving the Masonite plant in Jones County."

Failing to remember a single point of contact 18 years after the fact is not perjury, it's a memory lapse. Furthermore, PFAW attempts to spin this lapse into a dark, sinister conspiracy to conceal racist dealings when the circumstances clearly demonstrate the opposite. It also demonstrates the hysterical and truth-deficient approach that permeates PFAW.

The facts show that Pickering, like many good men and women in Southern politics in both parties, struggled through the aftereffects of American apartheid and tried to do his best to do the right thing, especially as a member of the judiciary. His entire body of work reveals him to be a conservative who believes in and upholds the ideals of equality. The smear perpetrated on him by the left and by groups like PFAW is shameful and unjust and reveals its mouthpieces to be unserious and unworthy of consideration.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 17, 2004 8:48 AM

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