Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Lott's Revenge?

Screw that, it's Bush's revenge.

The nation didn't have to wait long to find out if President Bush's impassioned denunciation of Trent Lott's racial views last month presaged a new approach to the selection of federal judges. It didn't. That became clear on Tuesday evening when the White House decided to renominate Charles Pickering, who failed to win confirmation from the Democratic-controlled Senate last year. Judge Pickering, a Mississippi trial judge and a protégé of Mr. Lott, was rejected largely because of his insensitive handling of civil rights cases. The Senate should once again refuse to confirm Judge Pickering, and should carefully scrutinize the 30 other nominees the
administration is putting forth.

The Judiciary Committee was particularly troubled by Judge Pickering's handling of a case against a man convicted of burning a cross at the home of an interracial couple with a young child. Judge Pickering tried to prevent prosecutors from asking for a five-year sentence and, in a highly questionable move, called the Justice Department to complain.

As a trial court jurist, Judge Pickering has also expressed skepticism about the way in which the Voting Rights Act has been applied. His record on racial issues in the past, while not as extreme as Mr. Lott's, raises serious questions of judgment. At his Judiciary Committee hearing, he said he regretted having declared in 1964 that Mississippi had been "humiliated" when its all-white delegation to the Democratic Convention was challenged. And he disavowed his decision as a state senator in the 1970's to ask Mississippi's Sovereignty Commission, whose job it was to defend racial segregation in the state, for help in monitoring labor unrest.

During last month's firestorm over Mr. Lott, Republicans tried to have it both ways on race. They appeased the majority of Americans, who were outraged at Mr. Lott's sympathetic words about segregation, by pressing him to resign as the Senate Republican leader. At the same time they winked at Mr. Lott's supporters by having prominent party members stand by him. More recently, they announced plans to award Mr. Lott a new position of honor by making him chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Throughout the zigging and zagging it still seemed possible that the party would heed the advice of Bill Frist, the Senate's new G.O.P. leader, who said one of his priorities would be "ensuring that our agenda is inclusive of all Americans." That hope evaporated with the renomination of Judge Pickering and several other jurists with dubious records on racial issues. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, among others, has declared that he will use every weapon at his disposal to defeat Judge Pickering. Other Democrats should join in, as should moderate Republican senators, who insisted last month that Mr. Lott's views had no place in their party.

Sanctimonious backslapping bloggers, too.