The announcement by Judge Charles Pickering that he is retiring was made outside the Federal Courthouse in Hattiesburg. He pointed out his current recess appointment to the post expires Jan. 16, 2005, when Congress adjourns. He acknowledged that a minority group of Democratic senators would likely block his confirmation again.
Pickering told those gathered to hear his statement that the action of that minority left him with no choice. Pickering, who is pro-life, said the root cause of the campaign against him was abortion.
"The issue that drove this was abortion," Pickering said. "Of all the nominees throughout, and some of the senators were candid with my friends. Leslie Breland was there and one of the senators said, 'I can't vote for anybody who doesn't believe like I believe on abortion."
The judge denied the charge that he was lenient on a cross burning conviction.
"The Janet Reno Justice Department offered him an 18 month sentence. I sentenced him to 27 months. How can anybody accuse me of being lenient with a cross burner when Janet Reno agreed that 18 months was the proper sentence? I called his act dastardly, despicable and reprehensible. Nobody who reads my entire sentence colloquy can think that I have any soft spot in my heart for cross burners," Pickering said.
Pickering was asked if prejudice against Mississippi played a role in his rejection.
"A bias against Mississippi played a role in this. Some of the senators actually said things that were derogatory about Mississippi," said Pickering. "You know Judge Bob Halford, who is here. Mississippi has made tremendous progress since the '70s. It was Mississippi white prosecutors who prosecuted Sam Bowers and put him in the penitentiary for the fire bombing death of civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer. It was a Mississippi white prosecutor who prosecuted Byron De La Beckwith."
Judge Pickering concluded his news conference, saying it's the right time for him and his family to move on.