Pickering Says He's Not Bitter About Confirmation Process

In January, President Bush skirted the Senate by using a recess appointment to make Pickering an appeals court judge. That appointment ended Wednesday night when Congress adjourned.

To remain on the bench, Pickering needed Senate approval -- something he couldn't obtain the previous four years. So Thursday in Hattiesburg, Charles Pickering retired.

A somewhat relieved Charles Pickering stood with friends in front of Hattiesburg's federal courthouse. That's where he addressed the media about his decision to hang up his judicial robe. "I'm glad it's over. Yes, that's an understatement," he told reporters.

Just like that, Pickering ended a four year attack by Senate democrats on his judicial record. "The actions of the minority left me no alternative but to retire yesterday, before Congress adjourned," he said.

For almost a year, President Bush had Pickering serve on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. But starting in 2001, the Senate never confirmed his nomination.

"The issue that drove this was abortion," Pickering said. However, most Senate democrats argued against Pickering for another reason -- their view of his judicial record on race relations. The divide crippled his chance to officially join the bench. "I'm not bitter at all," he said. "Now, I'm not going to tell you that it didn't hurt. And I'm not going to tell you that there were not ups and downs, because there were. But bitterness is too heavy a burden to carry through life."

So what does retirement mean for Judge Pickering? For one thing, he can start campaigning for his son. As a judge, Pickering could never attend House Rep. Chip Pickering events. Now that the 67 year old is officially retired, that changes.

It was when Pickering talked about family -- specifically his wife of 45 years -- when you could hear the emotions of the last four years pour out. "Most of all I want to express appreciation to my wife, who walked with me each day through this long journey," he said, his voice cracking as he honored Margaret Ann.

Mrs. Pickering had her own warm wishes for her husband. "I just don't think there is a better man anywhere than Charles," she said. "So we're at peace. We really are."

The outgoing judge echoed that sentiment. "Although I would prefer to have been confirmed," Judge Pickering said, "I'm in good spirits and at peace with the result."