Senate Republicans on Thursday failed to break a Democratic filibuster on the promotion of U.S. district court judge Charles Pickering to the federal appeals court, continuing a two-year standoff that has been tinged with accusations of racial, antigay, religious, and regional politics. Pickering, a Mississippi federal judge who wants a seat on the 5th U.S. circuit court of appeals in New Orleans, has been accused by Democrats of supporting segregation. He also has been accused of pushing anti-abortion and anti-voting rights views during his time as a state lawmaker.
Numerous gay rights groups also have strongly opposed Pickering. "Past behavior is usually the greatest indicator of future behavior, and Pickering's past has included highly disturbing racial overtones that make him an unusually unacceptable nominee," Winnie Stachelberg, political director for the Human Rights Campaign, said earlier this year following President Bush's renomination of the Mississippi judge. "His opinion of gay people also seems to mirror other unpleasant and disturbing prejudices that have defined his career and been the hallmark of his time on the bench." In a speech before the 1984 Mississippi Southern Baptist Convention, Pickering lumped homosexuality with other social problems, according to The [Jackson, Miss.] Clarion Ledger. "We as Southern Baptists should lead the way in strengthening traditional moral values," Pickering said, adding that society had been degraded by such things as pornography, homosexuality, and divorce.
Republicans have countered that Pickering advocated voting rights for blacks in the 1960s and led integration efforts in the 1970s and 1980s. His supporters charged that his nomination has become a victim of an anti-Baptist, anti-Southern prejudice among many Democrats. The GOP needed 60 votes to break the filibuster, but the final vote was 54-43. The Republicans have yet to break a Democratic filibuster this year.
Another Bush nominee to the federal bench also faced scrutiny Tuesday for past antigay remarks and perceived racial biases. Claude Allen told a Senate committee he didn't mean it as a slur against gay men and lesbians when he used the word "queer" while working as a press aide to former conservative Republican senator Jesse Helms. Allen also said he was "conflicted" about the 1983 filibuster mounted by Helms against a proposed federal holiday for the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. "It was the most difficult day for me in my life," said Allen, who, if confirmed, would become the second black appeals judge on the 4th U.S. circuit court of appeals. "I believed that Dr. King deserved a holiday."
Now deputy secretary at the Health and Human Services Department, Allen said that when a North Carolina reporter quoted him as using the word "queer" while he was Helms's press secretary during the senator's 1984 reelection campaign, Allen said he meant it in the sense of "odd, out of the ordinary, unusual" instead of a slur against gays. During Helms's campaign against former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt, Allen was quoted as saying that Hunt was vulnerable because his campaign could be "linked with the queers." He also was quoted as saying the Hunt campaign could be connected with gay men and lesbians, labor unions, radical feminists, and socialists. Allen immediately apologized at the time to those who might have "misunderstood" him, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I don't believe that we should use words that are pejorative in nature," Allen said. "I teach my children to have respect and treat people with the very same dignity that they want to be treated with."
The Senate has approved 167 U.S. federal judgeships for Bush since his inauguration in January 2001.
Pickering was the first of Bush's nominees to fall to the Democrats, who voted down his nomination last year when they controlled the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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