No Better Way to Pick a Justice? ; Charles Pickering's Critique of Our Judicial Nomination Process

Article excerpt

Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s confirmation to the Supreme Court ends the latest round of the judicial nominations war, and neither Democrats nor Republicans come out looking particularly good.

The most memorable image from Alito's confirmation hearings was his wife walking out of the room in tears. Conservatives blamed Democrats' viciousness, conveniently forgetting their own attacks against Harriet Miers last fall.

Few people are better positioned to write about the judicial confirmation meat grinder than Charles Pickering. In 2003, Senate Democrats filibustered his nomination to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

After a temporary recess appointment to the court, Pickering returned home to Mississippi in 2005. The result is Supreme Chaos, in which he sets out to explain what's wrong with the process - and to settle some scores.

Pickering lashes back at the liberal interest groups and Democratic senators he holds responsible for his defeat. He describes himself as "cannon fodder," and contends that liberal groups opposed him because of his strong religious beliefs and charges that he held racist views.

His history of the culture wars and warnings about attacks on faith are likely to elicit hearty amens from readers worried about "activist judges" and their rulings on abortion, gay marriage, or religion in the public square.

Unfortunately, much of the book simply regurgitates ideas found in other equally angry recent titles such as Mark Levin's "Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America." Remove all of the excerpts from other authors and Pickering's book might shrink to the size of a novella.

But buried beneath Pickering's pile of personal and partisan outrage are some perfectly reasonable observations. He correctly notes that the process is full of delays, and often includes demonization that can lead qualified candidates to decline nominations. He acknowledges that the process is subject to the wishes of whatever party is in control. And, he argues, unless this cycle stops, the nomination process will only get worse.

But Pickering is guilty of placing too much of the blame on Democrats.

He dedicates whole chapters to Democrats' decision to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees. …