Bush To Try, Try Again On Judges

Charles Pickering, US District Court Judge of Mississippi and federal appeals court judge nominee. 020314 AP

President Bush has renominated two controversial choices for appellate court judgeships – Charles Pickering of Mississippi and Priscilla Owen of Texas - both of whom who were rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate last year.

Pickering and Owen's nominations were returned to the Senate on Tuesday along with 28 other judicial nominations who were not considered by the full Senate last year. Pickering and Owen, however, were the only two who were specifically rejected last year by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.

They'll likely have a better shot of confirmation in the new Republican-controlled chamber.

"All judicial nominees deserve consideration by the full Senate," White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee said.

There was some question about whether Pickering, who was accused of being racially insensitive by Democrats, would be renominated after one of his patrons, Sen. Trent Lott, stepped down as Senate GOP leader after making racially insensitive remarks.

Senate Democrats immediately pledged to do whatever they could to keep Pickering from getting a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said Democrats "will use every tool in our arsenal to ensure that his nomination is rejected again this year."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that could even include a filibuster, which would mark a dramatic escalation in the ongoing fight over judicial nominees.

"Unfortunately, they have not learned from the Trent Lott episodes and I am going to do everything I can to stop the Pickering nomination from going forward," said Schumer.

"To me, this is a moral issue," Schumer told reporters. He said Pickering showed "glaring racial insensitivity" in his handling of a 1994 cross-burning case.

Pickering, a U.S. District judge in Hattiesburg, Miss., and a Lott friend, was blocked by Senate Democrats last year after civil rights groups lobbied against him.

"Those accusations ring hollow," Snee said. "These nominees have earned bipartisan support and respect from those who know them."

Owen also was voted down by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee last year while seeking a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Democrats complained that Owen has been an anti-abortion and pro-business judicial activist whose opinions and rulings were overly influenced by her personal beliefs.

After almost sweeping the November elections, Republicans — behind new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee — now control the Senate by a 51-48-1 margin, with independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont voting with the Democrats.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, "is pleased that the president is acting as soon as possible on nominations. We have a lot of leftover work to do," spokeswoman Margarita Tapia said.

Pickering's opponents have said that in view of Lott's comments, the White House should not renominate the Mississippi judge.

Lott triggered an uproar last month when he said that Mississippians were proud to have voted for retired South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond when he ran for president in 1948.

Lott said last month that he expected Pickering's opponents to invoke his name in opposition to the Mississippi judge. "Obviously people will try to use it against him," Lott said. "They used a lot of things against him last time that were very unfair."

Senate Democrats say Pickering's renomination shows the GOP did not learn anything from Lott's controversy.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., called it "breathtaking that just weeks after this painful debate over civil rights that this White House would send us the name of Charles Pickering again."

Pickering was defeated 10-9 in committee last March after civil rights groups said he supported segregation as a young man in Mississippi. Pickering's opponents also pointed to his conservative voting record as a Mississippi state lawmaker and decisions as a judge.

Pickering's supporters, including some Mississippi Democrats and black leaders, said Pickering supported civil rights efforts as far back as the middle 1960s.
  • Lloyd Vries

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