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Public Statements

Give Court Nominees Their Day in Senate

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By Zell Miller and Saxby Chambliss
(As Appeared in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution-May 1, 2003)

The ongoing filibuster in the United States Senate of Miguel Estrada, President Bush's nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, is unprecedented. Sadly, it has set the stage for future nominees to receive the same partisan, politicized and unfair treatment.

Four times, the Senate has voted to bring Estrada's nomination to the floor for a vote. And four times, certain Senate Democrats have stood in the way of basic fairness. Their obstruction hasn't just stopped with the Estrada nomination. This week, the president's nominee for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Priscilla Owen, is likely to receive similar unfair treatment by these same Senate Democrats. For nearly two years, Senate Democrats have obstructed the judicial nominations of Estrada, Owen and many others. Obstructionism and unfair treatment of judicial nominees is wrong and outrageous.

U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering, the president's other choice for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana), just like Estrada and Owen, deserves a straight up or down vote before the Senate. They also deserve a fair process -- free of character assassination.

Rightly so, this newspaper ran two in-depth news stories in March about Pickering that debunked many myths about this outstanding judge and set the record straight about the criticism surrounding his nomination.

Filling the vacancies in our judicial system with qualified, decent and honorable judges is an important task we both relish. It grants us the opportunity to make America even greater for our children and grandchildren.

It is crucial that the Senate provides a fair process of confirming judicial nominees -- the process of advice and consent as the Senate is charged by the U.S. Constitution. Since first being nominated, Pickering has been victimized by inaccurate, race-baiting, political trash talk by the news media, members of Congress and Washington's so-called liberal elite.

While Pickering's critics have and will continue to unfairly label him a racist and segregationist, nothing could be further from the truth. Pickering has long renounced segregationist views and he has worked to eliminate racial disparities in Mississippi.

As Georgia's senators, we want to set the record straight about this highly qualified individual. Pickering hasn't just talked about improving race relations, he has backed up his words with a lifetime of action.

In Mississippi, he testified and helped prosecute Sam Bowers, the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He served as a leader in his community to integrate the public schools. He hired the first African-American Republican political worker in 1976. He represented an African-American man falsely accused of robbing a 16-year-old girl in 1981. He chaired a race relations committee for Jones County, Miss., in 1988. He helped establish a group to work with at-risk African-American youths in Laurel, Miss.. And he serves on the board of the Institute of Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi.

Despite erroneous reports about Pickering associating with the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a staunchly anti-black group formed in the 1950s to resist the civil rights movement, Pickering never initiated contact with the commission. He had no involvement with the commission's action, voted to abolish the commission as a state senator and voted to preserve the commission's records for the sake of history, although many state legislators advocated destroying them.

Former Gov. William Winter of Mississippi, a Democrat and one of the South's most respected progressives, came to Washington to support Pickering's nomination. Sadly, Winter's praise and firsthand account of Pickering's true record fell on deaf ears by most Capitol Hill Democrats.

It is tragic that a highly qualified, decent and intelligent man has been and continues to be a pawn of the partisan process. Pickering's nomination, just like the nominations of Estrada and Owen, should be approved based on his merits alone. These judicial nominations deserve nothing more than a fair vote in the United States Senate.

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