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Jewish World Review
June 2, 2009 / 10 Sivan 5769
It's Not Fair To Casually Call People Racist
The nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has
already achieved a boon for our political culture: It has helped leading
liberals and Democrats to discover that being tarred as a racist on flimsy
grounds is unfair and deeply unpleasant. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,
for example, when asked on "Face the Nation" to respond to Rush Limbaugh's
and Newt Gingrich's comments about Sotomayor, said, "That's an absolutely
terrible thing to throw around. Based on that statement that one word
'better than' (sic) to call someone a racist is just terrible and I would
hope that Republicans would not do this."
Sen. Feinstein is right as far she went. She avoided one
undeniable fact though. If a white male nominee had been discovered to have
said something similar that he was better situated to judge due to his
background and life experiences than a Latina woman he would be cashiered
so fast as to induce whiplash. Those are the unwritten rules that Limbaugh
and Gingrich are attempting, one suspects, to expose for their
one-sidedness. Nevertheless, the instant labeling of the woman, based on one
unwise remark, is hardly fair. If Democrats are learning this now, that's
excellent news. One hopes they will remember this discovery when the wheel
turns and a Republican nominee is before the Senate. Certainly they didn't
seem to get it as recently as 2002, when President Bush nominated Judge
Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Judge Pickering
had displayed an "insensitivity to civil rights, to equal rights, especially
to minorities. ... This (nomination) lays bare the administration's real
position on civil rights." Leading liberal newspapers tolled the bell with
headlines like "Extremist Judge Unfit to Sit on Appeals Court" in the
Atlanta Journal-Constitution and "Say No to This Throwback" in the Los
The Democrats succeeded in torpedoing Pickering's nomination
not to mention assassinating his character. More than "insensitive," he was
called a crypto racist with a "segregationist past" (Paul Krugman). When
President Bush offered Judge Pickering a recess appointment to avoid a
Senate filibuster, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., breathed fire: "Here we are, on
the weekend before a national holiday when we celebrate Martin Luther King's
birthday, and George W. Bush celebrates it by appointing Charles Pickering,
a known forceful advocate for a cross-burner in America, to the federal
court of the United States."
In point of fact, Judge Pickering had been a friend to civil
rights throughout his career. To its credit, the New York Times actually
quoted longtime associates of the judge and members of the black community
in Pickering's hometown who "overwhelmingly support his nomination . . . and
admire his efforts at racial reconciliation." The black chairman of the city
council told the Times, "I can't believe the man they're describing in
Washington is the same one I've known for years." They recalled that as a
young prosecutor in 1967, Pickering had endangered his career (and perhaps
more) by testifying in court against the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux
Klan. He was known for hiring black staffers at a time when few white
Mississippians did. Pickering encouraged the chancellor of University of
Mississippi to form the Institute for Racial Reconciliation and served on
its board for many years. Pickering, unlike some white southerners (and many
Democrats currently serving in Congress), chose to send his children to
integrated public schools.
Pickering did preside over the trial of three young men who
burned a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple. Byron York's excellent
account in National Review reveals that Pickering was dismayed by the
Justice Department's decision to negotiate plea bargains with two of the
defendants (including the one Pickering regarded as the ringleader) and
recommend no jail time for them, while asking for seven and a half years for
the remaining defendant. One of those permitted to plea to a misdemeanor was
clearly a racist who had earlier shot a gun into a black man's home, gotten
into fights with black students at school, and convinced his drunk comrades
to burn the cross. Pickering did not think it was just to let him off and
sentence the other defendant, for whom this was a first offense, to more
than seven years. He sentenced him to 27 months, admonishing the defendant
that "the type of conduct you exhibited cannot and will not be tolerated ...
I would suggest to you that during the time you're in prison that you do
some reading on race relations and maintaining good race relations and how
that can be done."
Yet, without blushing, John Kerry transmogrified Judge Pickering
into "a forceful advocate for a cross-burner."
Judge Sonia Sotomayor deserves careful vetting by the
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She may or may not deserve
their vote. But those Republicans should seize this teachable moment to
remember all of the fine candidates Pickering, Miguel Estrada, Robert
Bork and many more who were so shamefully treated by the Democrats who
have suddenly discovered the evil of baseless accusations.
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© 2006, Creators Syndicate