Posted: Feb 11, 2002 12:00 AM
One can certainly understand why papers like the Atlanta Journal and Constitution ("Extremist Judge Unfit to Sit on Appeals Court") and the L.A. Times ("Say No to This Throwback") are so upset about Charles Pickering, President Bush's nominee for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. After all, the man once testified as a character witness for the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. What's that, you say? He testified against the Grand Wizard? In Mississippi? In 1967? Putting himself at political and personal risk? Oh. You say he was a local prosecutor who lost his bid for re-election because he stood up to the Klan? Hmmm. You say this man Pickering, who has been a federal judge (confirmed by the Senate) for 11 years, was asked by Mississippi's governor to serve on the executive committee of the Institute of Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss? What? He was the one who urged the state's governor and the chancellor of the university to create the institute in the first place? Who's been feeding you this stuff? James Charles Evers? You mean the brother of slain civil-rights hero Medgar Evers? He's defending this "extremist" in the pages of The Wall Street Journal? Hmmm. People for the American Way, the Alliance for Justice and other members in good standing of the character assassination coalition have been faxing false accusations about Pickering far and wide. Some of those faxes landed on Evers' desk. Evers, who has known Pickering for decades, was "saddened and appalled to read many of the allegations that have been put forth about Judge Pickering ... made by groups with a Washington, D.C., address and a political agenda" and without real knowledge of "Pickering's long and distinguished record on civil rights." Evers notes that Pickering did more than face down the Klan. While in private practice, he defended an African-American man accused of robbing a white 16-year-old at knifepoint. After two trials, the man was acquitted. People for the American Way is making much of a 1990 denial by Pickering that he ever had contact with the racist Mississippi Sovereignty Commission. PFAW has uncovered a phone call with a commission staffer dating to 1972. But that phone call dealt with Pickering's concern over a labor dispute in Jones County. According to reporting by National Review's Byron York, the KKK had been making trouble, and Pickering, then a state senator representing Jones County, was keeping tabs on the situation. That one phone call is the entirety of Pickering's "contact" with the Sovereignty Commission. As a federal judge, Pickering once overturned a damage award in a civil case because he believed that the jury was biased against the plaintiffs, an interracial couple. He ordered that the matter of damages be retried and the award for the couple was thus increased. Well, say the liberal activists, Pickering joined a law firm one of whose partners was a former segregationist. How many Southern law firms in the 1970s did not contain former segregationists? The Supreme Court of the United States and the United States Senate both contain or have contained not just former segregationists but former members of the KKK. The key term is "former" -- "Was blind but now I see." Besides, we are talking here of a law partner, not Pickering himself, who never was a segregationist. The very worst the mud-slingers on the left could find about the fellow was a 1959 law review article in which Pickering pointed out the poor wording of an anti-miscegenation statute. The 21-year-old Pickering did not, in the article, make the case against the law. But in a four decade career in the law, Pickering has shown himself to be an eminently fair and reasonable jurist. He has recommended to some convicted felons that all was not lost; that they still might turn their lives around by participating in Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship. Oops, another red flag. PFAW says this is evidence of Pickering's "disregard for the separation of church and state." This attack on Pickering is so obviously malicious and in such bad faith that one wonders why anyone takes these liberal groups seriously anymore. They have cried wolf so many times about so many honorable men and women that they have brought shame on themselves. They have become the thing they claimed to detest: McCarthyites.