Bush, Republicans fight for Pickering's nomination

Thursday, March 7, 2002

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans forced a one-week delay Thursday in a showdown over U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering's nomination to the federal appeals court, hoping to stave off an embarrassing defeat for President Bush.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, coupled his request for a delay with a withering attack on "extreme left Washington special interest groups" that he said were conducting a "lynching" designed to keep Bush's judicial nominees from gaining approval.

"They want activists on the bench who support their views, regardless of the law," Hatch said.

After Hatch requested a delay, it was automatic under the Senate Judiciary Committee rules.

Whether it would change any minds was unclear, though. Officials in both parties said in advance of the meeting that Pickering's nomination was headed for defeat on a party-line vote. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had said previously he would not bring the nomination to the floor unless the committee voted to do so.

"I think the judge is not being treated fairly," Hatch said Wednesday night as he signaled his intentions. "It does give another week for consideration by our colleagues, who hopefully will look at what an outside smear job this has been."

This came as Bush made a last-minute push to pressure Democrats into sending Pickering's nomination to the full Senate, where it probably would be confirmed.

All 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, a majority of the panel, have indicated they would vote against the nomination.

Bush accused Senate Democrats of playing politics. The White House and Democrats view Pickering's nomination as a harbinger of clashes to come if Bush is given Supreme Court seats to fill.

"I think the country is tired of people playing politics all the time in Washington, and I believe that they're holding this man's nomination up for political purposes," the president said in an Oval Office meeting with Pickering.

Pickering would sit on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which serves Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana.

He has faced criticism from women's, civil rights and liberal groups, some of the same factions likely to line up against a Bush pick to the Supreme Court.

Senate Democrats have questioned Pickering about efforts to reduce the sentence of a man convicted of burning a cross on an interracial couple's lawn. They questioned him about his actions on abortion and voting rights as a state senator and federal judge.

"It is very critical that the judicial nominees, especially for the appeals and the Supreme Court positions, are people of moderate philosophical temperament and have an impeccable past," Daschle said.

Bush shrugged off the criticism, noting that the former Mississippi prosecutor easily won Senate confirmation in 1990 as a judge in a U.S. District Court. He called Pickering a man who "respects the rights of all citizens."

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer shrugged off questions about Pickering's views on race in the 1950s and 1960s. "If actions taken by people 40 years ago were the criteria, there'd be some senators who are voting on this nomination whose very history would come into play," Fleischer said.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was a member of the Ku Klux Klan before coming to Congress in the 1950s; Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina waged the longest filibuster in Senate history to oppose a 1957 civil rights bill and ran for president as a segregationist.

The two men have since supported civil rights and hired black staff members. Thurmond is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Byrd is not.

------On the Net:

Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov

Justice Department list of judicial nominees: http://www.usdoj.gov/olp/judicialnominations.htm

White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov

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