Charles Pickering, a retired judge and Baptist layman, says the GOP frontrunner “has the integrity and moral authority to lead and bring America together.”
A past president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention and member of a committee that attempted to prevent schism in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s has been named a state chairman in Ben Carson’s 2016 GOP presidential campaign.
Retired Judge Charles Pickering, whose 2004 appointment by President George W. Bush to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sparked controversy, was announced Nov. 13 as Carson’s Mississippi State Chair.
“I am pleased and honored that Dr. Ben Carson has asked me to serve as his Mississippi State Chair.” Pickering, 78, said in a press release. “He has the integrity and moral authority to lead and bring America together. I encourage my fellow Mississippians to join me and help elect Dr. Carson our next president.”
Pickering, father of former U.S. Representative Charles “Chip” Pickering Jr. and a longtime member of First Baptist Church in Laurel, Miss., served as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention between 1983 and 1985.
He was vice chairman of the SBC Peace Committee, a special committee formed in 1985 to determine the sources of controversy between moderates and conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention and make findings and recommendations to resolve it.
In the end findings were divided along party lines, and the controversy continued in full swing until formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991.
Pickering himself became the center of controversy in 2001, when Senate Democrats filibustered his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Three years later Bush used a special presidential prerogative called a recess appointment to pick his candidate temporarily without congressional consent. After a year with the appellate court, Pickering chose to retire from the bench rather than refight controversy over his reappointment.
Opposition to the appointment came from groups including the National Organization for Women.
In 1976, Pickering chaired the subcommittee of the Republican Party’s Platform Committee, which called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision protecting a woman’s right to abortion.
In 1984, Pickering presided over the Mississippi Baptist Convention where messengers adopted a resolution calling for efforts to outlaw abortion except to save the mother’s life.
Democratic opposition focused on Pickering’s defection to the Republican Party in 1964, along with other southern Democrats disaffected by the party’s embrace of civil rights.
Pickering criticized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and was accused of racial insensitivity as late as his ruling in a 1994 hate-crimes case reducing the sentence of a white man convicted of burning a cross on an interracial couple’s front lawn.
Pickering accused Democrats of distorting his record on civil rights, noting that as a young prosecutor he went after the Ku Klux Klan.
His reason for reducing the sentence in the cross burning case, he explained, was he believed police made a plea bargain with the wrong man, and it was unfair for the 25-year-old participant to serve seven-and-a-half years in prison while the ringleader got off with a misdemeanor and no time in jail.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and a Republican frontrunner, said he was “honored” that Pickering had joined his campaign.
“I am grateful for his trust and confidence and look forward to working with him to offer my solutions for Mississippians and Americans across the country,” Carson said.
Carson, a Seventh-day Adventist, was invited in April to speak at a pastor’s conference preceding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June but withdrew after criticism that his presence would be seen as endorsement of his presidential campaign.