LCCR Opposes Pickering Nomination to Fifth Circuit- Serious Concerns About Nominee’s Civil Rights Record

Media 01.24.02

For Immediate Release
Contact: Cory Smith

(202) 466-3311

January 23, 2002 — Washington, D.C. Wade Henderson, Executive Director, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), issued the following statement today regarding President Bush’s nomination of Judge Charles W. Pickering, Sr. to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit:

“Although I am honored to join my colleagues this morning in defending the integrity of the federal courts, I regret that today’s action has been made necessary by the nomination of an individual to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals whose background, actions and temperament render him unsuitable for elevation to this most important court.

As we know, the federal courts often are called the guardians of the Constitution because their rulings protect the rights and liberties guaranteed by this most hallowed of documents. For many Americans, the federal judiciary is the first line of defense against violations of dearly held constitutional principles; for others, it is the last bastion of hope in a system that has marginalized, mistreated or simply ignored them.

The Leadership Conference strongly believes that the composition of the federal judiciary is a civil rights issue of profound importance to all Americans, because the individuals charged with dispensing justice in our society have a direct impact on civil rights protections for us all.

As such, the federal judiciary must be perceived by the public as an instrument of justice, and the individuals who are selected for this branch of government must be the embodiment of fairness and impartiality.

Our exhaustive and careful review of Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr.’s public record — from law student to state legislator to judge, as well as the presentations we have heard today, have left us with little alternative but to oppose his nomination because of his extreme views on important civil rights, women’s rights and constitutional issues.

When taken together, these immoderate positions ought to disqualify Judge Pickering from serious consideration for any federal Circuit, much less the important 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

It is especially important to note that we are discussing this nominee in the context of the Circuit to which he has been appointed. With Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, the Fifth Circuit has the largest percentage of people of color of any Circuit Court in the country. Unquestionably, much is at stake when it comes to civil rights.

Historically, the Fifth Circuit was the Circuit of “Unlikely Heroes,” who in the face of much opposition, issued scores of important opinions that in effect desegregated the South. This is the Circuit of:

John Minor Wisdom who ordered that James Meredith to be admitted to the University of Mississippi;

Richard Rives who outlawed segregation on the Montgomery city buses;

Elbert Tuttle who ordered the integration of the University of Georgia and struck down Louisiana’s segregated pupil placement laws; and finally,

John Brown who, in U.S. v. Mississippi, wrote that “no nation can survive if it flagrantly denies its citizens the right to vote.”

Today, the Fifth Circuit is dramatically different. It is now one of, if not the most hostile appellate courts in the country when it comes to civil rights. The Fifth Circuit is now the Hopwood Court that refused to apply Bakke to college admissions, impacting educational opportunities for black and brown students. The Fifth Circuit is now the Reeves Court that issued an opinion about the “intent” standard in employment discrimination cases so extreme it was overturned by the Supreme Court, 9-0. The Fifth circuit is the LULAC v. Clements court that held that the Voting rights Act does not apply to at-large judicial elections; again, an opinion so extreme, it was reversed by the U.S. Supreme court.

After our careful review of Judge Pickering’s record — on and off the bench — we are forced to conclude that he is the wrong man for the Fifth Circuit. This Circuit requires a jurist who will have a moderating influence on the Court. We urge the Senate to consider all of these circumstances and to exercise its constitutional prerogative to reject this nominee cries out for moderation. And we implore President Bush to nominate a moderate for this critical position.

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The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights is the nation’s oldest, largest, and broadest civil and human rights coalition. Established in 1950, the nonpartisan coalition is the legislative arm of the civil rights movement, consisting of approximately 185 national organizations representing people of color, women, children, labor unions, persons with disabilities, older Americans, major religious groups, gays and lesbians and civil liberties and human rights groups, committed to the protection of civil and human rights in the United States. For more information, visit