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Just a Good Old Boy

The National Bar Association, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force are just a few of the groups to recently come out in opposition to President George W. Bush’s nomination of Charles Pickering to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Advocates for civil rights are pointing to Pickering’s conservative record on such issues as voting rights, employment discrimination and abortion to show his hostility to civil and constitutional rights.

“Pickering has an abominable record and must not be confirmed for a lifetime judicial appointment,” said Heidi Siegfried, President for the Albany Area National Organization for Women. “We are looking at all of these circuit-court nominations because the Supreme Court takes fewer and fewer cases, and much of the law gets made at the circuit-court level.”

Siegfried pointed out that Pickering, who has served as a U.S. District Court Judge for the southern district of Mississippi since 1990, proposed constitutional amendments to ban abortion while he served in the U.S. Senate between 1972 and 1980. He also voted against measures that would have expanded electoral opportunities for African-Americans, even after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When he was in law school in 1959, he even wrote a potential loophole for Mississippi law, which would allow the state to criminally prosecute anyone whose spouse was of a different race.

Last Thursday, shortly before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee was to vote on Pickering’s nomination, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R- Utah) delayed the vote.

The Judiciary Committee is composed of 19 members, nine Republicans and 10 Democrats. If the committee votes in favor of Pickering, then his nomination will go to the Senate floor for a full vote. Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) told the Associated Press that the Republicans would use this extra week to try to sway at least one Democrat to vote in favor of Pickering. Right now, Pickering likely would be defeated 10-9 in a committee vote with all Democrats opposing him.

But civil rights activists are using this week to their advantage, as well, by bombarding their elected officials with e-mails, phone calls and letters urging them to block Pickering’s nomination.

Sandra Jaribu Hill, executive director of the Mississippi Workers for Human Rights, said the Fifth Circuit has the largest minority population in the country. If elected, Pickering would serve this circuit, which consists of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“With the nomination of Pickering, Bush has once again thumbed his nose at African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities,” said Hill. “It is crucial that the judges be extremely sensitive to the civil rights and concerns of these populations.”


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