In an apparent attempt to press the issue of race, two Missouri Democrats are asking President Bush to renominate the black judge who was the key witness for the opposition during Attorney General John Ashcroft's confirmation hearings.

Reps. Dick Gephardt and William Lacy Clay asked the president to appoint Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will have a vacancy in April.

White, first nominated in 1997, was the first nominee since conservative jurist Robert Bork in 1987 to suffer defeat on the floor of the Senate, and the first district court nominee so defeated in four decades.

Ashcroft, then a Missouri senator seeking re-election, called White "pro-criminal" because of his votes to overturn death penalty sentences.

Today, Democrats are threatening to filibuster a controversial Bush nominee, Charles Pickering of Mississippi, whose nomination they blocked last year after civil rights groups questioned his race-relations record.

Democrats have appeared eager to return to the subject since Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., a friend of Pickering's, sparked a firestorm last month after speaking warmly of the segregationist presidential campaign that former Sen. Strom Thurmond ran in 1948.

"In light of this and your party's efforts to repair its image on race relations, we urge you to reconsider Judge White's nomination to the federal bench," Gephardt and Clay wrote in a letter they released Friday. "Such action would be entirely consistent with your stated goal of realizing the promise of America for all our citizens, regardless of race."

Gephardt is among several Democrats exploring a presidential campaign in 2004.

During Ashcroft's confirmation hearings, White testified that Ashcroft "seriously distorted my record." He added, "The question for the Senate is whether these misrepresentations are consistent with the fair play and justice you all would require of the U.S. attorney general."

Bush refused to consider a previous request from Gephardt to renominate White.

The White House, and the judge, did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.