Nomination of Charles W. Pickering, Sr., of Mississippi, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit (continued)

Date: Oct. 30, 2003
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I will not dwell on the lifelong record of Mr. Pickering. But his testimony against Sam Bowers was not an isolated instance. I will not dwell on the charge some have made about a 1994 case. Senator Hatch dealt with that, although I ask unanimous consent to include two articles, one from the National Review Online and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explaining what really happened. In short, the Justice Department botched the case and the ringleader in the cross burning was turned loose. Pickering then properly reduced a juvenile accomplice's sentence from seven and one half years to 27 months, severely criticizing him.

In terms of the struggle for equality and freedom, I have seen the South and our Nation change for the better during my lifetime. I have tried to help bring about that change. When I look back now, it seems embarrassingly slow and amazing that it was so hard. I remember as a student at Vanderbilt in 1962, when we raised the issue of integrating the student body, the student body voted no. I remember in 1980 I appointed the first Black Tennessee supreme court justice, and he was defeated in the next election. I remember it was 1985 before we had the Martin Luther King Holiday, and the legislature nearly voted it down. I appointed the first two African American vice presidents of the University of Tennessee, but that did not happen until 1989.

Our country, from its beginning, has truly been a work in progress. And on this issue, racial justice, we have had an especially hard time making progress. We have had a hard time changing our minds. The truth is, most members of my own generation have had one view about race in the 1960's and another view today. Many of the men and women who are judges, who are mayors, who are legislators, who are Senators today, opposed integration in the 1950s, opposed the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s. They were against the Martin Luther King holiday in the 1980s, and we welcome them to society today. We have confirmed some of them to the Federal bench, some of them Democrats, some of them Republicans.

What is especially ironic about this incident is that Judge Pickering was not one of those people whose ideas we have to excuse. He led his times. He spoke out. He would have, I am certain, joined Judge Wisdom, Judge Tuttle, Judge Rives, and Judge Brown in ordering Ole Miss to admit James Meredith to the University of Mississippi 40 years ago.

Why would we not now recognize this man, who lived in the Deep South, who did what we all hope we would have had the courage to do, but might not have done in the late 1960s? Why would we not now honor and recognize that service by confirming his nomination to this appellate court?

I care about the court. I care about these issues. I have studied the record as carefully as I could. All of the evidence supports the fact that Charles Pickering is a worthy successor on the Fifth Circuit to the court of Judge John Minor Wisdom, Judge Elbert Tuttle, Judge Richard Rives, and Judge John R. Brown.

Mr. President, I rise today to say a few words concerning the nomination of Judge Charles Pickering.

Throughout the entire history of the Senate, no judicial nominee has ever been defeated by a filibuster. Yet in this session alone, four nominations have been blocked by this unconstitutional obstruction. Soon, there will be five, six, and likely even more nominees facing partisan filibusters. this obstruction flies in the face of more than 200 years of Senate tradition, the constitutional role of the Congress, and the consent of the governed.

While all of these filibusters are wrong, it seems to me that the tactics employed against certain nominees is particularly disgraceful.

First, we witnessed the hostile attitude towards Leon Holmes, a nominee for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Despite having earned the support of each of his home state Senators-both members of the minority-Mr. Holmes was sharply criticized-not for his legal work, but for his personal writings about his religious views.

Then we witnessed the strident animus directed toward Alabama Attorney General, Bill Pryor-who was repeatedly
challenged over whether his "philosophy" and "deeply held views," particularly those arising from his religious beliefs, precluded him from becoming a judge.

And now, today, we are witnessing the terrible treatment of Judge Charles Pickering. This is an issue that is of particular importance to my state, because Judge Pickering has been nominated to a long-standing vacancy on the Fifth Circuit-which covers Texas and Louisiana in addition to Mississippi.

Like the other nominees, Judge Pickering is a deeply religious man. He is also a man from the South. And I believe he is clearly qualified to serve on the federal bench, as he has been serving for over a decade. Yet Judge Pickering has, like others, become the target of a venomous special interest group campaign, one directed against Southerners and against those who take their faith seriously. A representative of one of these groups recently called Judge Pickering a "racist," a "bigot," and "a woman-hater."

It is sad to see this shameful caricature of a well-qualified, respected man. And it is sadder still to see these special interests dominate the other side of the aisle. I hoped such tactics would never gain apologists among any members of this body, but hearing this debate today, I fear that my hope was all for naught.

This Nation, both North and South, has for too long suffered from the scourge of racism. We have made a great deal of progress so far, and there is more to go. but even as we condemn racism with all our might, we must also condemn false charges of racism. Every false charge of racism weakens a true charge of racism, and ultimately, that hurts us all.

Judge Pickering has been praised and supported by those who know him best-by those who have worked by his side, and seen him fight racism in his home state of Mississippi.

My fellow Southerners who have reviewed the record carefully agree. All six Mississippi statewide officeholders, including five Democrats, have stated that Judge Pickering's "record demonstrates his commitment to equal protection, equal rights and fairness for all." The senior Senator from Louisiana has applauded Pickering's lifelong campaign against racism, characterizing them as "acts of courage." And the Senators from Georgia have written that, "Pickering's critics have and will continue to unfairly label him a racist and segregationist," and that "nothing could be further from the truth."

But perhaps the most compelling views on this subject have been expressed by Mr. Charles Evers. He is the brother of the slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, and he has personally known Judge Pickering for over 30 years. He is intimately familiar with Judge Pickering's numerous actions throughout his career to fight racism, often with deep sacrifice and personal cost.

Mr. Evers wrote in the Wall Street Journal in support of Judge Pickering, saying,

As someone who has spent all my adult life fighting for equal treatment of African-Americans, I can tell you with certainty that Charles Pickering has an admirable record on civil rights issues. He has taken tough stands at tough times in the past, and the treatment he and his record are receiving at the hands of certain interest groups is shameful . . . Those in Washington and New York who criticize Judge Pickering are the same people who have always looked down on Mississippi and its people, and have done very little for our state's residents.

I hope that today the Senate will take a stand against the despicable tactics of radical special interest groups. We must not allow the special interests' exploitation of religious views, stereotypes, or false caricatures-concerning Southerners or any other people-to decide a vote on any nominee. Such reprehensible practices have no place in this debate. And it is a dark day for the Senate and for America's independent judiciary when we allow special interests to dictate the basis for disqualification.

I ask my fellow Senators to vote to confirm Judge Pickering, to reject the inhuman caricature that has been drawn by special interest groups intent on vilifying, demonizing, and marginalizing an admirable nominee. I hope that my colleagues will give all these qualified nominees what they deserve, and allow them to have an up or down vote.

For the sake of the Senate, the Nation, and our independent judiciary, I hope that these days of obstruction finally end.