Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Pickering

Environmental and planning groups urge full Senate to block his confirmation


Glenn Sugameli, 202-667-4500 x 221


Cat Lazaroff, 202-667-4500 x 213


Jason Rylander, Community Rights Counsel, 202-486-8650

On a party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the re-nomination of Charles W. Pickering, Sr. to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Earthjustice and other national environmental and planning groups urged the full Senate to block Pickering’s confirmation. The Senate’s decision will be critical to the fate of federal environmental safeguards in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Judicial ethics experts have confirmed serious ethical violations by U.S. District Judge Pickering. In addition, he violated court rules and decisions by blocking average citizens right to defend their health and environment in court, favored powerful interests at the expense of the rights of ordinary Americans and the environment, and breached legal standards to implement his personal agenda.

New information on serious ethical violations by Judge Pickering was developed by Community Rights Counsel (CRC), a non-profit environmental law firm, and contained in a letter to the Judiciary Committee from CRC, Earthjustice and other national environmental and planning groups (pg.9). This information, which Senator Russ Feingold discussed in committee today, shows that Judge Pickering improperly solicited seven attorneys with active cases before him to send him letters in support of his nomination to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Given Judge Pickering’s rulings against letting average citizens defend their rights in environmental cases, coupled with these and other ethical improprieties, he is clearly not an appropriate choice for the Fifth Circuit.

Pickering Facts

  • On January 31, 2001, Charles W. Pickering, Sr. was nominated to United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On March 14, 2002, Judge Pickering was defeated by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 10-9 vote. President Bush tauntingly renominated Judge Pickering to the same seat on January 2, 2003.

  • Judge Pickering also improperly solicited seven attorneys with active cases before him to send him letters in support of his nomination to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Pickering instructed the attorneys to send the letters directly to him, to be forwarded to the Judiciary Committee. NYU Law Professor Stephen Gillers, an expert in Judicial Ethics, indicated in a letter to Sen. Feingold on Feb 20th that Judge Pickering’s conduct in soliciting the letters was improper. But in writing his letter, Gillers assumed none of the attorneys had cases then pending before Pickering. Gillers stressed that “The impropriety becomes particularly acute if lawyers or litigants with matters currently pending before the Judge were solicited. Then the desire to please the Judge would be immediately obvious and the coercive nature of the request even more apparent.”

  • Judge Pickering has a record of unjustifiably denying citizens access to the courts to seek redress for environmental and other harms. Higher courts reversed his rulings repeatedly after he permanently barred victims from bringing legal claims against a Superfund site. E.g., Abram v. Reichhold Chemicals, No. 95-60784 (5th Cir. 1996). Pickering did this in blatant disregard of court rules and decisions requiring him to consider lesser sanctions.

  • In another case, Judge Pickering issued a remarkable ruling in favor of a developer who filed a preemptive lawsuit to preempt any challenges to a proposed major casino project in one of the most productive and important estuarine habitats of North America. Incredibly, Judge Pickering did not only bar the groups the developer sued (the Sierra Club and four local citizens’ groups) from filing a legal challenge in any other court, he also improperly barred “all persons having knowledge of this Order.” Pine Hills Dev. P’ship v. Gulf Island Conservancy, No. 2:97cv333PG (S.D. Miss.).

  • As a United States District Judge, Charles Pickering engaged in a series of ethical improprieties in order to reduce the sentence of a convicted cross-burner. In particular, he initiated a series of improper communications with prosecutors, threatening to grant the cross-burner a new trial if the prosecutors did not agree to a sentence that was below mandatory federal minimums. He took the further improper step of sealing his Order in the case from public scrutiny. United States v. Swan. Three experts in Judicial Ethics have concluded that Judge Pickering’s behavior in the case was unethical.

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