Here’s a story from the judicial confirmation archives.

Interest groups are opposing a judicial nominee down in Mississippi. In 1967, he had testified against the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan for fire-bombing a civil rights activist and worked with the FBI to investigate and prosecute other KKK members. In 1981, he represented a black man falsely accused of robbing a white teenage girl.

Since then, he initiated and coordinated a bipartisan, multi-racial group to foster race relations in his home county, chaired the county heart fund and Red Cross and March of Dimes chapters, and headed the county drug education council. He currently sits on the board of directors of the Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi and is helping develop a local program to help at-risk black youth.

This is the kind of background that should make lefties positively tingle. Prominent black leaders including a liberal Carter-appointed judge and former NAACP chapter president support the nomination. So do a former Democratic Mississippi governor and Mississippi Democratic Party chairman.

No, he’s not some warm-fuzzy liberal Clinton nominee. Nor is the opposition led by David Duke. Charles Pickering, Sr., was nominated by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and he’s opposed by People for the American Way, the Alliance for Justice, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights who say he would “turn the clock back” on civil rights. Pretty weird, huh?

This attack signals that Senate Democrats’ guerilla war against President Bush’s judicial appointments has moved into Phase Three.

In Phase One, the national campaign, Senate Democrats keep overall confirmations as low as possible. No matter how high judicial vacancies climb, or how many nominees President Bush sends to fill them, the confirmation train will never more than crawl along.

In Phase Two, the regional campaign, Senate Democrats pick fights that stall confirmations to particular judicial circuits. In the Midwest, for example, Michigan Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow are blocking all seven of President Bush’s appeals court nominees to vacancies in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. They say it’s over the way Clinton nominees were treated a few years ago. You’d think they would find an excuse that did not sound like second-graders in a spat about kooties, but the stated reason doesn’t much matter. It’s the stall that counts.

And now it’s Phase Three, surgical strikes against individual nominees. These leftist groups think the judiciary is like a political cafeteria and they want the menu to include more of their favorite foods. That a judge might simply follow the law and leave the politics, liberal or conservative, to the people just doesn’t compute. So they attack nominees like Judge Pickering based on their politics.

The correct way to look at judges, however, is whether they follow the law, no matter what their politics. A judge would be just as wrong to ignore the law and impose a conservative agenda as a liberal one. Judge Pickering knows the difference between politics and law, between the state senator he used to be and the federal judge he is today. That’s why President Bush wants to elevate him to the appeals court and why he should be confirmed.

Unfortunately, President Bush missed a golden opportunity to bring this to the American people. In his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, he never mentioned a word about the triple-digit judicial vacancy crisis, not a word about his dozens of nominees languishing in the Senate, not a word about the vicious, misleading attacks on men like Judge Pickering.

The attack on Judge Pickering is just a signal of more to come. The far-left seeks a judiciary they can count on to deliver the political goods no matter what the people want. They are just getting their feet wet, sharpening their teeth for bigger battles to come. Three phases are just the beginning. Without sustained public presidential leadership, they will be tough to stop and a judiciary truly independent from politics, that follows the law rather than the headlines, will be tough to achieve.

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