Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus Head Backs Pickering

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The head of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus (search) says he no longer opposes U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering's appeals court nomination -- a surprising turnabout that could cost him his position.

State Rep. Phillip West, a Democrat, said in a Tuesday statement that he was speaking only for himself and not for the full caucus. The 45-member caucus has vigorously opposed Pickering's nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search).

Pickering, nominated to the New Orleans-based court by President Bush, has been criticized by black organizations for his record on civil rights issues, including his decision to seek a lighter sentence for a convicted cross-burner.

In February, Pickering and his son, U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., met privately with caucus members, most of whom had signed a petition stating their opposition to the nomination.

The judge explained how he took heat for testifying against a Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard Sam Bowers in a 1968 murder trial.

"That struck home with me because I know that feeling," said West, who has also been active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (search). "I have been ostracized and shunned by both blacks and whites and characterized as a racist myself."

West said he waited to take a public stance on the Pickering nomination because he wanted to persuade the caucus to drop its opposition. When the caucus didn't act, he said, he issued his own statement.

"It left me with the opportunity and the right to express my opinion," West said Wednesday.

Chip Pickering said the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his father's nomination is tentatively scheduled for next Wednesday, and he is confident his father will survive the committee's vote.

The younger Pickering was not sure, however, that there are enough votes in the full Senate to break a filibuster by Democrats.

Bush renominated Charles Pickering (search) this year after opposition from key Democrats derailed the nomination a year ago. The Republicans took back control of the Senate this year.