Press Room

January 16, 2004


HRC Sharply Criticizes Recess Appointment of Charles Pickering

Judge Pickering's Career Marked by Racial and Anti-Gay Prejudice, says HRC

WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign sharply criticized President Bush today for his recess appointment of Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Pickering is one of only six judges that HRC has opposed out of approximately 200 nominated by the president.

"Judge Pickering has advanced a body of jurisprudence that does not reflect America's highest values and the individuals within his jurisdiction deserve better," said HRC President Cheryl Jacques. "A man whose career has been marked by racial divisiveness and anti-gay prejudice cannot be trusted to fairly interpret the laws of our country."

In a speech before the 1984 Mississippi Southern Baptist Convention, Pickering lumped homosexuality with social problems, according to The Clarion Ledger, a Jackson, Miss., newspaper.

"We as Southern Baptists should lead the way in strengthening traditional moral values," he said, adding that society has been degraded by such things as pornography, homosexuality and divorce, according to The Clarion Ledger.

As an organization profoundly concerned about hate violence, HRC is particularly troubled by Pickering's handling of a 1994 hate crime incident involving three men who burned an 8-foot cross on the lawn of an interracial family while using racial epithets. The family had been a frequent target of harassment in their small rural town, including having bullets fired into their home and "KKK" painted nearby on the street.

Nonetheless, when sentencing one of the defendants, Pickering gave what was considered a "lenient" sentence for the cross-burning, in order to "make the punishment commensurate with the drunken prank that I think it was, even though it did have racial overtones."

"Judge Pickering's placement in the 5th Circuit is particularly problematic, given that the 5th Circuit has the highest racial minority population of any circuit in the country," said Jacques. "We urge the President to appoint fair-minded judges who will respect the civil rights of every American."

Pickering's appointment is also opposed by the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and dozens of other mainstream civil rights groups.