WASHINGTON – For a so-called bigot, Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering is getting some unlikely support in the fight to confirm him for an appeals court post previously denied him by Senate Democrats.
Texas lawyer Jorge Rangel, denied by Republicans a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when he was nominated by President Clinton, urged senators in a recent letter to confirm Pickering for the court.
Rangel, a Hispanic often cited by Democrats as a victim of unfair Republican tactics, said Pickering is "free from bias."
"Competent, compassionate, sensitive and free from bias are terms that aptly describe him," said Rangel, a civil law attorney specializing in personal injury, libel and general media litigation.
Republicans have unsuccessfully tried to pressure Democrats to help confirm President Bush's judicial nominees, but Democrats have used a variety of procedural tactics to deny the president's picks for the bench. Some, including Judiciary Committee member Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has said in no uncertain terms that he opposes some of the president's choices based solely on their political philosophies.
In other cases, Democrats have offered a variety of charges of why a candidate is unsuitable. In Pickering's case, Democrats said he had wrongfully recommended a lesser sentence for a man convicted of burning a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple. The NAACP and other groups jumped on Pickering's civil rights record.
"The Charles W. Pickering that I have read about in press reports during the pendency of his current nomination does not comport with the Charles W. Pickering that I have come to know in the last 13 years," said Rangel, who sat on the American Bar Association review panel for Pickering's nomination to the District Court in 1990.
Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, suggested that he might bring Pickering's nomination back to the panel. He was denied a Senate confirmation when the Democrat-led panel rejected his nomination last year.
Democrats have threatened a filibuster if Republicans bring Pickering's name up for another round.
They also say they are unconvinced by Rangel's pleas.
"To Senator Leahy and to many other senators, the record of Judge Pickering's poor performance as a federal judge, as well as his actions that violate judicial ethics, are still the most compelling arguments against promoting Judge Pickering to one of the highest courts in the land," said David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the judiciary panel.
Rangel and Pickering have a long history of mutual support. In 1997, when Rangel was nominated but Republicans refused to permit a hearing, Pickering called then-Majority Leader Trent Lott to press for one.
The hearing never came -- the result of objections from Rangel's home-state Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and the now-retired Phil Gramm. Clinton eventually withdrew the nomination.
"To this day, I very much appreciate the fact that Judge Pickering reached out to me and offered to help at a time my pleas for a hearing had fallen on deaf ears," Rangel said.
Democrats appear to be equally uncompromising these many years later. They have continued to filibuster Hispanic attorney Miguel Estrada of Washington, D.C., nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Republicans have failed four times in three months to overturn the filibuster.
Democrats have also held up the confirmation of Texas Supreme Court Justice Patricia Owen. They have not said whether they will filibuster Owen, who is vying for the same seat Rangel had aspired to fill.
Owen has been accused by Democrats and advocacy groups of being an anti-abortion and pro-business judicial activist, something Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, deny.
Cornyn, a freshman member of the Judiciary Committee who served on the Texas Supreme Court with Owen, said that now that the war in Iraq is over, pressure must be increased on Democrats.
"We've got to find a way to hold them accountable," said Cornyn.
Democrats and advocacy groups have also complained about Jeffrey Sutton's work as a lawyer against disability rights and federal civil rights. Sutton is nominated to a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals seat. Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts said he "would expect that [Sutton] would pass."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.