Fight may be brewing over Bush judicial nominee
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate will not vote on President Bush's nomination of Charles Pickering Sr. to a federal appeals court if the Judiciary Committee rejects it, Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Sunday.
Bush has nominated Pickering, a district court judge in Mississippi, to a seat on the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Civil rights, abortion rights, labor and liberal groups oppose the nomination.
Republicans say enough Democrats may support Pickering to get his nomination through the full Senate and they have been pressing to move the nomination to the floor even if the Judiciary Committee -- which has 10 Democrats and nine Republicans -- votes against Pickering along party lines.
The committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination this week.
Daschle said on NBC's "Meet The Press" that Supreme Court nominees should come to the Senate floor for a vote regardless of committee action.
But, he said, "we looked back ... [and] we could not find a precedent for an appeals court judge or a district court judge coming to the floor over the objections of the Judiciary Committee.
"I will respect the Judiciary Committee's jurisdiction here," he said.
A former chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party and state senator, Pickering is a longtime associate of Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi. His son, Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering Jr., R-Mississippi, was once Lott's legislative aide.
Lott, appearing with Daschle on the NBC program Sunday, said Pickering will "absolutely not" withdraw his nomination.
"He is going to see this process through. It's typical of him. He is a man of courage. He is stating what he thinks is the right thing to do, and I support that," Lott said.
Lott said Pickering, a federal judge since 1990, has been the object of "smear activity by outside groups."
Among the groups that oppose Pickering's nomination are the National Abortion Rights Action League, the NAACP of Mississippi, People for the American Way and the AFL-CIO.
Critics say Pickering, a former president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, opposes abortion rights and has been critical of the Voting Rights Act.
They have also pointed to a law review article Pickering wrote more than 40 years ago that suggested ways to amend the state's law banning interracial marriages so that it would pass constitutional muster.
Pickering has repudiated the article and, rebutting suggestions he is racially insensitive, his supporters point to testimony Pickering gave against a Ku Klux Klan leader in the 1960s when he was a local prosecutor.
"He has shown courage in the race area and, as a matter of fact, has been a uniter, not a divider," Lott said. "It is a tragedy the way he has been treated."
In January, Lott vowed Pickering would get a full Senate vote "or else."
Asked Sunday what "else" he might do should the committee defeat the nomination and Daschle refuses to move it to the floor, Lott said, "You look at what other alternatives you have, or else it will probably contribute to a continuing deterioration of how we handle judicial nominations."
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