Pickering to Retire at Appointment End

Federal judge Charles Pickering (search), appointed by President Bush less than a year ago without Congressional approval, said Wednesday he will step down from the bench.

President Bush elevated Pickering, 67, with a recess appointment (search) in January, which temporarily sidestepped the confirmation process. Some Democrats accused Pickering of being racially insensitive and harboring anti-abortion views.

Such recess appointments, which need no Senate confirmation, are valid only until the next Congress takes office, in this case in January 2005. Democrats could have tied up his permanent nomination when Congress next meets.

"The actions of the minority leave me with no alternative than to retire as Congress adjourns," Pickering said in a statement released late Wednesday.

Pickering said he would make a formal announcement Thursday.

In July, Bush nominated Keith Starrett (search), a judge on the 14th Circuit Court District of Mississippi since 1992, to replace Pickering as U.S. district judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Pickering's statement said he was at peace with his decision.

"I will always be grateful to the people of Mississippi — both black and white, both Democrat and Republican — who supported my confirmation with their prayers, their words of encouragement, letters of support and trips to Washington to speak on my behalf," he said.