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Bush's Full-Court Press

January 13, 2003

There are at least two explanations -- one even more cynical than the other -- for President Bush's renomination last week of Judge Charles W. Pickering, a man the Senate rightly rejected last year for a seat on the federal appeals court.

Perhaps Bush really didn't mean it last month when he denounced as "offensive ... and wrong" Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott's nostalgic musings about the segregated South. The Republican Party has long tried to have it both ways on race: ardently courting minority voters while winking at party stalwarts who consistently fight policies to establish fairness and opportunity for minorities. Even Bush has not always been above such doublespeak, encouraging African Americans to vote GOP and touting his Spanish-language facility on the campaign trail as a come-on to Latino voters even as he dropped in at Bob Jones University, which, until three years ago, barred interracial couples from sharing a pizza.

Bush's renomination of Pickering, a man whose law career is unremarkable but for his longtime friendship with Lott and his dogged defense of Mississippi's anti-miscegenation laws, throws another steak to the far right and sand in the eyes of most Americans.

There could be another explanation for Bush's decision, just weeks after denouncing Lott, to again shove Pickering on the American people. Perhaps the president doesn't really care whether Pickering, whom he's indignantly defended as "a fine jurist ... a man of quality and integrity," is confirmed.

Maybe Bush calculates that Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others, justly incensed that the judge is back before them, will embarrass a Republican or two into joining them and defeat his nomination a second time. The president may be figuring that if they can call in enough chits on Pickering, the Democrats won't have the votes to stop the many other men and women he hopes to place in these powerful, lifetime seats on the federal bench.

None of those nominees can be tarred with Pickering's in-your-face defense of segregation. But many, including Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, lawyers Miguel Estrada and Jay S. Bybee, North Carolina Judge Terrence Boyle and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl, share a disdain for workers' rights, civil liberties guarantees and abortion rights. Their confirmations would be no less a disservice to the American people than that of Pickering, who now has been nominated two times too many.

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