Bypassing the constitutionally required review of the Senate, President Bush on Friday installed embattled right-wing judge Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals as a recess appointment. Pickering will only serve on the Fifth Circuit until the end of the next Senate session in October unless he is confirmed by the Senate in the meantime. Senate Democrats had been maintaining a filibuster against Pickering, and they continue to filibuster several other nominees to the federal appeals courts.
The recess appointment was met with outrage by Democrats and women’s rights and civil rights advocates. National Organization for Women (NOW) President Kim Gandy released a statement condemning Bush’s action. “Bush’s total disregard for the Democratic members of Congress who rightfully blocked Pickering’s nomination, his disregard for the women of this country and for democracy in general are appalling,” said Gandy. “We’re no longer surprised by the underhandedness of this President – Bush apparently thinks that he can act unilaterally wherever and whenever he pleases.”
Bush claimed that “a minority of Democratic Senators has been using unprecedented obstructionist tactics to prevent [Pickering] and other” nominees from receiving votes, according to the New York Times, but in fact Pickering’s filibuster was supported by 43 Senators. Furthermore, Republicans in the 1990s blocked 114 of President Clinton’s judicial nominees by vote or procedure, the Times reports.
The Feminist Majority has joined a large coalition of women’s and civil rights groups to oppose Pickering’s nomination due to his anti-women and anti-civil rights history. As a state Senator, Pickering supported a constitutional amendment to ban abortion and chaired the subcommittee of the National Republican Party that in 1976 approved a plank calling for an amendment to the US Constitution to make abortion illegal. Pickering has opposed the Equal Rights Amendment and as a district court judge, criticized remedies provided by the Voting Rights Act to redress discrimination against African-American voters. Also as a federal district judge, Pickering attempted to intercede in a case to reduce the sentence of a convicted cross burner.”
The President’s recess appointment of this anti-civil rights judge the day after laying a wreath on the grave of Martin Luther King is an insult to Dr. King, an insult to every African American, and an insult to all Americans who share Dr. King’s great goals,” said Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) in a press statement. “It serves only to emphasize again this Administration’s shameful opposition to civil rights.”