Senate Republicans Set Thursday Pickering Showdown

After more than two years of waiting, Mississippi judge Charles Pickering (search) will get a Senate vote this week on his nomination to a federal appeals court.

But Senate Democrats are expected to use the vote Thursday to begin filibustering to block Pickering, who wants a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) in New Orleans.

Senate Republicans said Tuesday night they would force a filibuster vote Thursday on Pickering, who was one of President Bush's first judicial nominees in 2001.

In 2002, the U.S. district judge also was the first of Bush's nominees to fall to the Democrats, who voted against his nomination on a 10-9 party-line vote when they controlled the Senate Judiciary Committee (search).

Pickering's opponents have complained that he supported segregation as a young man in Mississippi. They also pointed to his votes against abortion and voting rights as a Mississippi state lawmaker and his decisions as a judge, including efforts to reduce the sentence of a man convicted of burning a cross on an interracial couple's lawn.

But Pickering's supporters say he stood up for the voting rights of blacks in the 1960s and led integration efforts in the 1970s and '80s.

Some Republicans also called Pickering a victim of anti-Baptist and anti-Southern discrimination and said that a Democratic filibuster of Pickering could help GOP gubernatorial challenger Haley Barbour in next month's statewide election in Mississippi.

"I'm sure it's going to contribute some anger toward Democrats who blocked this good and decent man," said Republican Sen. Trent Lott (search).

Southern Republicans periodically accuse their Democratic rivals -- no matter how conservative -- of being beholden to a party that is too liberal and out of touch with southern beliefs.

It requires 60 votes to break a filibuster and move a nominee to confirmation. Republicans control the chamber by a two-vote margin, with 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who usually sides with the Democrats.

Democrats already have filibustered three of President Bush's nominees, one of whom dropped out after the GOP failed to break the blockade.

The Republicans have yet to break a Democratic filibuster this year.