The Charles Pickering nomination for the Fifth Circuit

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Sat Feb 9 09:56:10 MST 2002

Note by Hunterbear:

As I've indicated in at least two previous posts on this matter, I'm
certainly strongly opposed to the Pickering nomination.  I hope  concerned
people in the 'States will contact their US Senators and indicate opposition
to him as nominee for a judgeship on the  U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of
Appeals [New Orleans.]

  A few days ago, Charles Evers, brother of Medgar Evers [martyred  at
Jackson in June '63], had a piece in the Wall Street Journal endorsing
Pickering for the Fifth Circuit and has otherwise indicated his support for
this Bush nominee.  I do not find Charles' endorsement in this matter to be
at all compelling.  Charles Evers and I go back quite a ways indeed -- but
have had a number of disagreements.  Essentially, in sharp contrast to
Medgar, he's been a pretty consistent Republican for some decades and has
never been friendly to union labor. [On the other hand, he is a person of
courage and, because of the "old tie" from the Mississippi War, I would
never put him personally down -- I like him --  but we do disagree on much.]

 On the matter of Pickering taking an ostensibly bold and courageous
anti-Klan stand in 1967, the reality is that -- although risks are always
involved in any anti-Klan position -- the Magnolia State and the South
generally had undergone some considerable change by that date. Much
Southwide grassroots civil rights movement had been going on for years. The
Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which emerged
because of heroic organizing and activism, were having their very positive
impact. The hard-lines of resistance to social change had been broken, many
initial victories had been won, and much desegregation [and even some
integration] was underway.

The atmosphere of terror was waning very rapidly. The Klan was certainly
persona non grata in the broad Southern sense by 1967. Poor Whites
generally, and the Klan -- made up primarily of low-income and otherwise
marginal Whites -- had  frequently been cynically used -- as a tool -- for
generations by the middle- and upper-class forces to keep low-income Blacks
and Whites apart, keep unions away, and maintain the political and economic
control by  "the big mules:"  the bosses.

The enduring courage and commitment of the Southern Movement generated the
increasingly intense, multi-faceted complex of pressures which created,
among other things,  major cost factor crises that steadily forced the
Southern establishment into "tokenism" and "moderation" and finally even
into some substantial concessions.  In that context, the Klan and comparable
poor and marginal White groups became, in the eyes of the respectables,
liabilities and the "rabble" was then discarded and dumped.  At that point,
inflamed poor Whites, seeing betrayal from above, turned venomously on their
"captains" --  as examples, blowing up the offices of a South Mississippi
newspaper that  called for compliance with Federal law and generating
threats and cross-burnings against a Mississippi judge who denounced racist
violence.  At that and comparable points, the full force of the Southern
police state mechanisms -- always used so viciously against the Movement --
were brought to bear on the Klan and its kin.

[For a discussion of the Klan in the context of the changing South, see one
of my articles on the topic, "Beneath The Burning Crosses:   Reflections On
The Klan And Poor People" which was published in the September 1981 issue of
Sojourners and then reprinted by Klanwatch in its SPECIAL REPORT:  The Ku
Klux Klan -- A History of Racism and Violence,   Klanwatch, The Southern
Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, 1982.

The article is on my website via   ]

Anyway, in 1967, Charles Pickering's anti-Klan testimony against Sam Bowers
would be quite in accord with the wishes of the prevailing ethos of the
pragmatic dimension of the Magnolia power structure.  In short, no big
thing.  Some dangers -- but Pickering obviously had plenty of law
enforcement protection.  No risks for him reputationally -- not by that

This fact is briefly mentioned by Attorney Charles Taylor, formerly with the
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in the following New York Times [2/8/02]
article on the Pickering nomination. Mr Taylor's statement is correct.

In addition to all of this and much more, I'd also be extremely concerned
about Pickering's current and future stance on labor union issues and civil
liberties in general and the death penalty.

Just some quick thoughts.  Hunter [Hunterbear]

 Judicial Confirmation Hearing Evokes Civil Rights Struggle


WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 - A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination
Charles W. Pickering to be a federal appeals court judge turned quickly
into a pained retrospective of the turbulent civil rights era in
his home state, and an examination of his behavior in those days.

Judge Pickering, who sits as a federal trial judge in Hattiesburg, Miss.,
been nominated by President Bush to a seat on the United States Court of
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Mississippi, Texas and

Civil rights groups and abortion rights advocates have lined up against the
nomination, and the committee's Democrats today questioned the judge's
on the bench for the last 11 years and, with more reserve, his actions as a
state senator and county attorney before then. Committee Republicans,
at the beginning of the hearing by a visit from Senator Trent Lott, the
minority leader and Judge Pickering's principal patron, mounted a vigorous

The Pickering confirmation fight is the first full-scale battle over a
nomination in the Bush administration. Many at today's hearing - senators,
liberal and conservative lobbyists and even reporters - took it as a warm-up
for more serious confirmation fights to come. There is a wide expectation
one or more Supreme Court justices will retire while Mr. Bush is in office,
all the weapons that are deployed in such modern political combat were being
hauled out, including negative research, arranging for sympathetic character
witnesses and indignant statements.

Judge Pickering tried to pre-empt his critics with an opening statement in
which he defended his behavior both on the bench and off. Because he had
criticized for a 1959 law review article seemingly encouraging strengthening
the state antimiscegenation law, he said he had never opposed mixed-race

As a county attorney, he said, he testified in 1967 against Sam Bowers, a
leader who was being tried for the firebombing death of Vernon Dahmer, a
rights leader, "who was doing nothing more than helping African-Americans
obtain their constitutional right to vote."

He said the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned him he could be harmed by
the Klan. "This was a sobering moment," he said, as he had two small
at the time.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, repeated the story and
depicted the young Pickering as one of the courageous figures of the civil
rights era in Mississippi.

"The Klan threatened to have County Attorney Pickering whipped," Mr.
said. "While it is easy in Washington, in 2002, to make a speech or sign a
in favor of civil rights after decades have changed racial attitudes in
schools, society and the press, who among us would have had the courage of
Charles Pickering in Laurel, Mississippi in 1967?"

William Taylor, a civil rights lawyer in Washington who served on the Civil
Rights Commission at the time, said, however, that the situation in
was not so clear-cut by 1967. Mr. Taylor, who opposes the Pickering
said in an interview that by that time, the white establishment opposed the
Klan for economic and other reasons.

Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, questioned Judge
about his decision to quit the state Democratic Party in 1964 when the
principal dispute was its insistence on fielding an all-white delegation to
national convention. Mr. Pickering said at the time that the national party
"humiliated " the state's delegation, the language used by segregationists

Judge Pickering defended his behavior by saying that "we're looking back to
time, back to 1964." He said his actions "had to do with the perspective of
that time."

Asked if he regretted his remarks about the state's being humiliated, he
"I certainly would not make them today."

"Do you regret them?" Mr. Feingold asked.

"I do," he replied.

Judge Pickering was also questioned by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat
Illinois, about his contact with the Sovereignty Commission, which was
to retaining segregation and opposing civil rights organizers. Judge
testified in 1990 that he had no contact with the commission but a document
disclosed in 1998 showed that, as a state senator, he had asked a commission
official in the 1970's to be informed of labor unrest in Jones County.

"It doesn't seem like the right place to turn," Mr. Durbin said.

"If I were making that decision today, I would not do it," the judge

Judge Pickering seemed to wither visibly under the questioning of Senator
Edwards, Democrat of North Carolina, about a more recent issue.

Mr. Edwards asked about a 1994 trial Judge Pickering presided over in which
man was convicted of burning a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple
a 2-year-old child. Judge Pickering had opposed the Justice Department's
efforts to have the man sentenced to five years as required by the law. He
called a senior official in the Justice Department to complain.

Senator Edwards read the canons of judicial ethics prohibiting a judge from
making contact with one side and suggested that Judge Pickering had violated
it. The judge, who seemed taken aback by the line of questioning, said, "I
don't consider it to be a violation of judicial ethics" because he was not
looking to achieve anything by his call. Asked why he had called, he said he
was looking to express frustration.

The committee is expected to vote on the nomination later this month, and
aides said the outcome was uncertain.


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