updated 12/9/2004 5:39:15 PM ET 2004-12-09T22:39:15

Charles Pickering Sr., whose bruising battle for a seat on a federal appeals court abruptly ended when President Bush elevated him without congressional approval, announced his retirement Thursday.

Joined by family and friends outside the federal courthouse in Hattiesburg, Pickering, 67, said he would not seek the nomination for a permanent seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans amid opposition from Democrats and civil rights groups.

“I have fought this battle for four years, and I think for me, and my family, the time is right to move on,” he said. “President Bush can now nominate someone younger who will be able to serve longer, which I believe is in the best interest of the court.”

Bush first nominated Pickering, a U.S. district judge in Mississippi, to the appeals court seat in 2001, but his confirmation was blocked by Democrats.

When Democrats blocked Pickering’s nomination again in November 2003, Bush bypassed Congress and elevated him to the appeals court with a recess appointment. Such appointments, which need no Senate confirmation, are valid until Congress adjourns for the year, which happened Wednesday.

Judge sees bias against Mississippi
Democrats accused Pickering of supporting segregation as a young man and of promoting anti-abortion and anti-voting-rights views as a state lawmaker.

Pickering said Thursday he had a good record on civil rights.

“A bias against Mississippi played a role in this. Some of the senators actually said things that were derogatory about Mississippi,” he said.

The 5th Circuit handles appeals from Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, and the federal judges on that circuit have been trailblazers on desegregation and voting rights in the past.

Pickering, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention in Mississippi, said Thursday that he was not embittered by the Democrats’ actions.

“I will always be grateful to the people of Mississippi — both black and white, both Democrat and Republican — who supported my confirmation with their prayers, their words of encouragement, letters of support and trips to Washington,” he said.

In July, Bush nominated Keith Starrett, a judge on the 14th Circuit Court of Mississippi since 1992, to replace Pickering on the U.S. District Court.

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