Supporters of Mississippi Federal Judge Charles Pickering’s nomination to serve on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — which is expected to be blocked this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee — claim that he is the victim of a “liberal lynching.” The spin says Pickering is a supporter of racial reconciliation who is supported by southern blacks but opposed by northern liberals. The truth is that Pickering has drawn more opposition from his home state and region than any judicial nominee in recent history.
To hear supporters of Pickering tell it, the only barrier to the judge’s confirmation to serve on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is a “smear campaign” conducted by a bunch on “damn yankees.” In fact, the claim goes, southern blacks are backing Pickering’s nomination because they know him to be a consistent supporter of “racial reconciliation.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there is widespread opposition in Mississippi’s African-American community and across the south to the nomination of a man who worked closely with segregationists throughout the 1960s and whose judicial tenure has been characterized by a deeply disturbing antipathy towards the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights protections. But in a Capitol where spin wins more frequently than not, the claim that liberal northerners are at odds with southern blacks when it comes to Pickering — and the parallel claim that Pickering has been unfairly attacked by liberal activists who do not know his real record on race issues — has become a central theme of right-wing commentators, Republican senators and Bush White House aides who still hope to salvage the nomination.
Pickering’s backers are pulling out all the stops this week because they know his nomination is in serious trouble. For the first time since George W. Bush assumed the presidency, it is likely that one of his judicial nominees will be rejected by a Senate panel. If the ten Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee vote Thursday to block Bush’s nomination of Pickering to serve on the Court of Appeals for Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, the Bush administration and Pickering’s chief Senate sponsor, Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., will have suffered a rare setback in a Senate where Democrats hold a bare majority but have been slow to challenge even the most conservative of the president’s judicial nominees.