WASHINGTON – Sens. Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that they would filibuster the confirmation of appellate court Judge Charles Pickering, whom President Bush renominated Tuesday.
Pickering was rejected by the Democratic-led Judiciary panel last March after being accused of racial insensitivity despite backing from the brother of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers. Pickering, and Priscilla Owen of Texas, who was also rejected by the committee, are expected to get a more favorable reception in front of the Republican-led panel.
But Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the most outspoken critics of Bush's judicial nominee, said Pickering, a good friend of deposed majority leader Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, exemplifies how little the White House cares about racial matters in this country.
"Actions speak louder than words. And when it comes to civil rights, this administration has been talking a good game, but has consistently ignored the need to move civil rights and racial issues forward. To change the conductor but have the orchestra continue to play the same tune doesn't make much of a difference," he said.
"To renominate Judge Pickering, who has not built a distinguished record and is probably best known for intervening on behalf of a convicted cross-burner, shows, unfortunately, that Richard Nixon's southern strategy is still alive and well in the White House," Schumer added.
Bush returned the nominations to the Senate Tuesday along with 28 other nominees who were not considered by the full Senate last year. Pickering and Owen, however, were the only two who were specifically rejected last year by the Senate panel.
"All judicial nominees deserve consideration by the full Senate," White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee said after the announcement was made.
Snee added that accusations against Pickering and Owen, who was charged with being too judicially active by being anti-abortion and pro-business, "ring hollow. These nominees have earned bipartisan support and respect from those who know them."
Pickering, a U.S. District judge in Hattiesburg, Miss., and Owen, a Texas Supreme Court justice, are both up for seats on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Democrats defeated the nominees on a 10-9 party-line vote when they held the chairmanships. Since Republicans won back the Senate majority in November, Republicans now chair the committees and will have the majority of members serving on each.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who defended the two nominees in the last Congress "is pleased that the president is acting as soon as possible on nominations. We have a lot of leftover work to do," spokeswoman Margarita Tapia said.
Senate Democrats say Republicans have not learned anything from the tempest that brewed last month when Lott, while paying tribute to retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond, said "the country wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years" if Thurmond, then a segregationist Dixiecrat, had won the 1948 presidential race.
"In the wake of Senator Lott's comments and the encouraging statements from the White House on civil rights issues, we had some hope that the administration might agree that Judge Pickering is not the best nominee to a powerful post, a lifetime appointment on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. I must say I'm not surprised that that advice was rejected," Schumer said.
Lott said last month that he expected Pickering's opponents to invoke his name in opposition to the Mississippi judge. "Obviously, people will try to use it against him," Lott said. "They used a lot of things against him last time that were very unfair."
This time, Durbin, D-Ill., said he "will join with my colleague, Sen. Schumer, and others in the Senate to exercise all of our legal rights to make certain that he is not, in fact, confirmed to serve on the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals."
The Senate confirmed 100 of the president's 131 appellate and district court nominees last year. The president plans to nominate others by April, Snee said.
Bush has also proposed a new confirmation process that would make sure that all nominees are accepted or rejected within a 15-month period, rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for promotions to the bench. The committee has not said whether they will consider his recommendations.
Fox News' Julie Asher and the Associated Press contributed to this report.