WASHINGTON – A coalition of civil rights and other grassroots organizations demanded this week that the Senate Judiciary Committee reject George W. Bush’s nomination of Judge Charles Pickering to the federal Fifth Circuit Court on grounds that he is hostile to civil rights, labor rights and voting rights.

Brian Komar, a spokesperson for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), which has spearheaded the movement to block Pickering, said the vote scheduled for this Thursday (March 14) “is expected to be very close.” The committee was set to vote last week but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking minority member, invoked a rule allowing a one-week postponement as the Republicans struggled to muster the votes to report the nomination to the full Senate.

Throughout his career in Mississippi politics, Komar charged, “Judge Pickering has continually held extreme views on important civil rights, women’s and constitutional issues. The attempt to portray the opposition to Pickering as coming only from within the ‘Washington beltway’ is disproven by the tremendous opposition from individuals and groups within the Fifth Circuit.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus has warned that if the Senate approves Pickering, Bush will see it as a “green light to pack the federal bench with judges openly hostile to the basic principles of equal justice under law.”

Pickering has a long career as an extremist linked to the white supremacist Sovereignty Commission in Mississippi. As a law student in 1959, he wrote an article for the Law Review arguing for tightening Mississippi’s law against interracial marriages. He spearheaded the floor fight at the 1976 Republican Convention that put the GOP on record as an enemy of women’s reproductive rights.

Of two dozen decisions he wrote on the Mississippi bench, 11 were so extreme in attacking settled law on civil rights and voting rights that the Fifth Circuit overturned them. NAACP National Board Chair Julian Bond said, “A vote for Pickering is a vote against civil rights.”

A delegation from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas flew to Washington the first week of March to counter a New York Times report that Pickering enjoys hometown support.

Katherine T. Egland, an NAACP activist, told Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) “As a lifelong Mississippian who resides in Judge Pickering’s judicial district, I question recent news reports that Judge Pickering’s personal relationships with residents of his hometown are better indicators of his future behavior on the federal bench than consideration of his troubling judicial record.”

Michael S. Rosier, president of the National Bar Association, said, “The Fifth Circuit is regarded as one of the most conservative circuits in the country. In recent years, the court has issued some of the most extreme civil rights rulings of any court. The confirmation of Judge Pickering will continue that downward spiral and will further erode the protection of civil and voting rights of minorities.”

Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), said, “Based on Judge Pickering’s past as well as his decisions on the bench, MALDEF concludes he would not be fair and impartial. … For that reason, we must oppose his nomination.”

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