Pickering's appointment to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will be valid until the next Congress is seated -- in January 2005.
"I'm grateful to the president for his continued confidence and support. I look forward to serving on the 5th Circuit," Pickering told the Associated Press.
Democrats responded angrily to the announcement. New York Sen. Charles Schumer called it "a finger in the eye to all those seeking fairness and bipartisanship in the judicial nominations process."
Pickering had been awaiting Senate confirmation, but Democrats had stalled a floor vote, saying he supported segregation as a young man and pushed anti-abortion and anti-voting rights views as a state lawmaker.
His nomination had sparked one of the most contentious battles between Republicans and Democrats over the federal courts. Democrats said he would be unable to keep his conservative views from affecting his work on the federal appeals court, but Republicans said Democrats were blocking the nomination to placate liberal special-interest groups, according to Reuters.
Bush said last year of Pickering, "He is a good, fair-minded man, and the treatment he has received by a handful of senators is a disgrace. He has wide bipartisan support from those who know him best."
Pickering is one of four U.S. Appeals Court nominees Democrats have blocked under the Bush administration, including Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, Texas judge Priscilla Owen and Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada. Frustrated at the delays, Estrada withdrew his nomination in September.
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said of the appointment, "It is quite unfortunate that the president has chosen to seat Judge Pickering only days before the nation celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."
Pickering strongly denies allegations of racial insensitivity. "For 25 years I have strongly advocated that African Americans and whites should sit down and talk in a positive and constructive manner to try to promote better understanding," he said after a meeting with the Mississippi Black Caucus last year.
The 5th Circuit handles appeals from Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana.