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Bush accuses Senate of blocking nominees

By KATHY A. GAMBRELL, White House reporter   |   March 13, 2002 at 11:20 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush Wednesday accused a handful of U.S. senators of blocking the confirmation of his judicial nominees by using delaying tactics.

"They seek to undermine the nominations of candidates who agree with my philosophy that judges should interpret the law, not try to make law from the bench. And because these senators fear the outcome of a fair vote in the full Senate, they're using tactics of delay," Bush told reporters.

In his first news conference this year, Bush said such tactics could potentially cause a vacancy crisis in the federal judiciary.

Bush made his appeal in a last-ditch effort to prod a Senate panel to allow a vote on his controversial nominee for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Charles Pickering.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to decide Thursday whether the nomination should go to the floor so the full Senate can vote on it. Bush stressed that the Senate unanimously confirmed Pickering to serve on the District Court bench. The White House has said if the Senate is allowed to vote, they're confident Pickering will be confirmed.

The president called the situation "unacceptable" and "a bad record for the Senate." He said the Senate had an obligation to provide fair hearings and prompt votes to all nominees, not matter which political party controlled the Senate or the White House.

"By failing to allow full Senate votes on judicial nominees, a few senators are standing in the way of justice. This is wrong, and the American people deserve better," Bush said.

He pointed to his nominations record since taking office. Bush has nominated 92 people to serve as federal judges. So far, he said, the Senate has confirmed 40. And of the 29 nominees to the circuit court, seven have been confirmed.

Bush also accused the senators of blocking nominees who do not share their view of the federal courts, but rather subscribe to his philosophy that judges should interpret the law and not try to make law from the bench.

"Unfortunately, we are seeing a disturbing pattern where too often, judicial confirmations are being turned into ideological battles that delay justice and hurt our democracy," Bush said.

Bush nominated Pickering, who has served 12 years as a U.S. district judge in Hattiesburg, Miss., to sit on the appeals court. The nomination pits the White House against Senate Democrats, labor, civil rights and abortion-rights organizations that were concerned Pickering would not uphold civil-rights laws.

Pickering's opponents cite a series of his rulings and a 1959 law review article as reasons why the Senate should reject his nomination. They say the article demonstrates his opposition to interracial marriage, but his supporters say they are misrepresenting it.

Liberal groups such as the National Organization for Women, NAACP and NARAL have launched campaigns aimed at drawing attention to what they say is Pickering's long history of racial and gender bias. Pickering was also critical of the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

The left-leaning People for the American Way also brought up Pickering's record as a Mississippi state senator. It said he sought to weaken the Voting Rights Act by co-sponsoring a resolution that called on Congress to repeal the section of the measure that allowed federal oversight of jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting.

Supporter Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said of Pickering, "I believe he is a very, very different man today than he was as a state senator in the early 1960s."

Last week, Bush brought Pickering and his supporters to the White House to make his case. The White House has said it was confident Pickering would be confirmed if his nomination were brought to a vote before the full Senate.

Senate Majority Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has said there is no way of knowing what Pickering would do once confirmed, but those who have examined his record closely are convinced that he is probably incapable of upholding the civil rights laws as they ought to be interpreted. Daschle has also said he would not guarantee a full Senate vote if the Judiciary Committee votes against Pickering.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has struck out at anti-Pickering campaigners, saying, "For them, the means justify the ends at whatever the cost -- including the gross distortion of this fine man's record and character."

One of Pickering's most ardent supporters, his son U.S. Rep. Charles, "Chip" Pickering, R-Miss., told reporters last week that his father's court rulings have been taken out of context and that more attention should be focused on his record of racial reconciliation. The younger Pickering called the allegations against his father "stereotypes used to smear a good man."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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