The Pickering Vote
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KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Judiciary Committee met this afternoon, having postponed for a week a final vote on elevating federal district judge Charles Pickering to the fifth circuit court of appeals. But, over those seven days, the expected outcome did not change. A majority, comprising the committee’s ten Democrats, would vote "no," effectively killing the nomination despite support for Pickering from the committee’s nine Republicans.
Before the vote, Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy was among the first to speak.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D) Massachusetts: I believe that that is a responsibility for any of the nominees, to be able to demonstrate that that nominee has a core commitment to the fundamental values of the Constitution, to civil rights, to the Bill of Rights, to the issues of privacy. It seems to me, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee just fails to meet the kind of criteria and his core commitment to these fundamental values that warrant and justify an affirmative vote. So I intend, at the appropriate time, to vote in the negative.
KWAME HOLMAN: The committee’s top Republican, Orrin Hatch of Utah, had the opposite view of Judge Pickering.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) Utah: I know judge Pickering. I’ve had extensive conversations with him. He is truly a righteous decent man. He’s a person who… who’s applied the law, he’s a person who has been reversed rarely, he is a person who has ability, he’s a person who has a good judicial temperament and he’s a person who, through his lifetime has stood up in so many ways that I know a lot of others would not have. And I think he ought to be confirmed, and we’ll just see what happens here today.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush nominated 64-year-old Charles W. Pickering, senior, last year to the federal appeals court for the fifth circuit, which includes his native Mississippi. In the recent weeks, Mr. Bush stepped up his efforts to get the Senate to confirm him, bringing in multi-racial groups of supporters to counter the charge that Pickering has been insensitive to civil rights as a federal judge and earlier in his legal career. Pickering was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush’s father. Judge Pickering is a close friend of the Senate’s minority leader, Trent Lott, who also hails from Mississippi. The judge’s son, Chip, is a member of congress. Yesterday at his news conference the President issued another statement of support.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Judge Pickering is a respected and well-qualified nominee who was unanimously nominated 12 years ago to the district bench. His nomination deserves a full vote, a vote in the full Senate. I strongly urge his confirmation. Unfortunately, we are seeing a disturbing pattern where too often judicial confirmations are being turned into ideological battles that delay justice and hurt our democracy. We now face a situation in which a handful of United States Senators on one committee have made it clear that they will block nominees, even highly qualified, well-respected nominees who do not share the Senators’ view of the bench, of the federal courts. They seek to undermine the nominations of candidates who agree with my philosophy that judges should interpret the law, not try to make law from the bench.
KWAME HOLMAN: As the vote approached this afternoon, Judiciary Committee Republicans decried what they say is a false image of judge Pickering created by liberal interest groups.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, (R) Iowa: They’re using the same plots, the same employs and talking points to destroy the career of a decent and well-qualified man. They’ve simply pulled out their model complaints and have just written in, filled in the blank with Judge Pickering’s name. Again, these groups are trying to highjack the Senate — all this because they want the committee to evaluate judicial nominees with a pre-ordained, established litmus test, and that’s what’s wrong.
KWAME HOLMAN: Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold answered the argument of some Pickering supporters that because the Senate approved him as a federal district judge, he clearly is qualified to be elevated to the court of appeals.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) Wisconsin: Judge Pickering has also expressed troubling views in some voting right cases, including even mounting some criticism of the concept of one person, one vote. That concept is the bedrock of constitutional freedoms of our political system, and I am somewhat disinclined to elevate to a higher court a judge who seems not to take this principle sufficiently seriously.
KWAME HOLMAN: After more than three hours of statements, members voted first on whether to report Judge Pickering favorably to the full Senate. All 10 Democrats voted no; all nine Republicans, yes. Then, in two other votes requested by Republicans, committee Democrats also refused to move the Pickering nomination forward even without a favorable recommendation, apparently ending the Charles Pickering nomination.