(WOMENSENEWS)–U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering was grilled by senators on his record on civil and women’s rights this week during confirmation hearings on his appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Pickering answered questions for more than four hours Thursday in the most charged confirmation hearing since that of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Democrats in particular raised concerns about Pickering’s stands against women’s rights such as abortion.

As chair of the Human Rights and Responsibilities Subcommittee of the 1976 Republican Party Platform Committee, Pickering called for an amendment to the Constitution banning abortion, a stance he reaffirmed two years later as a state senator in Mississippi, when he voted for a resolution calling for a constitutional convention on the issue. During his time in the Mississippi Senate, he also voted against funding of family planning programs, according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center.

Pickering also opposed the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which would have strengthened protection against government-sanctioned gender discrimination.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, asked Pickering if, as an appeals court judge, he would uphold the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

“I would have no choice but to uphold it,” Pickering said. “The Supreme Court has decided it and that’s the law.”

The three states that compose the 5th Circuit–Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas–frequently enact anti-choice legislation and the federal appeals court plays a critical role in protecting women’s right to reproductive freedom, the National Women’s Law Center says.

For more information:

NARAL Resources: Fact Sheet
Judge Charles W. Pickering, Sr.:

A Newshour with Jim Lehrer Transcript
Shaping the Courts, February 7, 2002
Ray Suarez discusses using ideology as a confirmation for
federal judges with Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the
National Women’s Law Center, and Thomas Jipping, vice president
for legal policy at The Free Congress Foundation

video exerpt available: