Cover Story

Pickled Pickering

"Pickled Pickering" Continued...

Issue: "Senate wars over judges," May 14, 2005

As the judge's staffers in late December and January gathered the unpublished opinions, Mr. Leahy's judiciary staff hit them with new requests, posing "so many questions that it really almost shut me down." The goal, Mr. Pickering wrote, was to fish for material that could associate him with Mississippi's difficult past and the Republican Party's conservative wing. Liberal groups in January released anti-Pickering reports and held press conferences charging guilt by association. More faxed questions kept arriving from Mr. Leahy.

Finally Mr. Pickering had his second hearing on Feb. 7, a grilling that lasted more than five hours. The Mississippi NAACP officially took an anti-Pickering position and Senate Democrats highlighted and skewed a few cases involving race, despite written protests from 81 Mississippians including former Democratic governors and black civil-rights leaders such as Charles Evers. To the very end, Sen. Ted Kennedy labeled Mr. Pickering a threat to civil rights, and Sen. Edwards, his 2004 presidential hopes in the balance, hotly cross-examined the judge. When the hearing ended about 7 p.m., "things were almost a blur," Mr. Pickering wrote.

His bid for Senate confirmation stalled through 2002. President George Bush resubmitted his nomination in 2003, then gave him a recess appointment to the 5th Circuit Court for one year. In Dec. 2004, his honor in place, Mr. Pickering, 67, not having been confirmed, was forced to retire. Today, he is senior counsel at a top Mississippi law firm and is writing a book for Stroud & Hall publishers of Atlanta. He enjoys time at his farm in Laurel, Miss., where he flies the Stars and Stripes by a cyprus-sided home near a fish-stocked lake.

In 2005, some things have changed. The Republicans, with 55 Senate seats, are now (or should be) in firm control. Ms. Aron maintains that a "die-hard conservative activist with strongly held views on critical constitutional issues" is worth assaulting, but it may be harder to assault a woman. Liberal reporters are likely to be megaphones for political distortion of judges' records, but conservative media now have more of an opportunity to talk back. The question may be whether Senate GOP leaders are willing to lead.

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