After ridding themselves of the embarrassment and political liability that was Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, it appeared that the Republican Party had finally learned its lesson; in a society of racial diversity and justice there is no place for bigotry. But with President Bush’s recent renomination of U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering Sr. to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, it appears that it’s back to politics as usual for the Grand Old Party.
The main concerns regarding this nomination arises from Pickering’s lopsided legal past. In his time as a public servant, Pickering has been a vocal opponent of racial, civil and reproductive rights. In 1976, as chair of the Human Rights and Responsibilities Subcommittee for the Republican National Convention, Pickering approved a platform that challenged Roe v. Wade and called for a Constitutional amendment to ban abortion. And as a Mississippi state senator, Pickering voted against legislation to expand suffrage opportunities for African Americans after the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Pickering’s most controversial act in the judiciary was his inappropriate handling of a 1994 cross burning case. Instead of complying with federal law, Pickering took unusual lengths in attempting to reduce the sentence of a man convicted of burning an eight-foot cross in the yard of an interracial couple and firing shots at their house. Pickering, who called the incident “a drunken prank,” threatened to order a new trial in the case, made phone calls to the home of one prosecutor and even attempted to bring his concerns to then Attorney General Janet Reno. His underhanded dealings and corrupt tactics were a misappropriation of his judicial power.
The GOP is willing to move on issues that garner lots of media attention, but on issues that slip underneath the radar, they are more likely to be racially provocative. Moves such as renominating Pickering for a Court of Appeals judgeship prove that Bush and the GOP will continue to support questionable political figures unless challenged in the media.
Pickering’s name does not carry with it the notoriety that Lott’s does. His attitude toward race and his legislative and judicial actions, however, make him just as inflammatory as Lott. Pickering’s renomination is as much an affront to justice as Lott’s former position as Senate majority leader.
The Republican Party has for many years been plagued by negative perceptions about its handling of race matters. After Lott stepped down, the party was afforded an opportunity to begin to change those perceptions by continuing to distance themselves from leaders like Lott and connecting with minority groups. By renominating Pickering, the GOP has shown that the sensitivity and commitment to racial justice they professed during the Lott fiasco were merely hollow overtures to minorities, transparent attempts to forge an inclusive image for a party tarnished with the stain of racial intolerance.