Barack Obama's choice of Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden for vice-president on the Democratic ticket reminds me of Biden's role in the confirmation fight of Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering. Pickering recounts Biden's involvement in his two books, "Supreme Chaos: The Politics of Judicial Confirmation & The Culture War" and "A Price Too High: The Judiciary in Jeopardy." (I was honored to assist Pickering in the writing of both.)

Pickering served on the federal district court and in 2001, President George W. Bush nominated him for a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. What should have been a routine nomination ultimately set the stage for battles contributing to the confirmation of Justices John Roberts and Sam Alito to the Supreme Court.

Pickering needed a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote to send his nomination (with a positive, neutral, or even negative recommendation) to the full Senate. Later, Pickering needed Democrats to stand against unprecedented filibusters, even if they ultimately voted against him. Both times, Biden made overtures he would help Pickering; both times, Biden folded under political pressure.

Pickering was a former chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party and staunch conservative. As an attorney, his practice saw the full range of a small town lawyer: prosecutor, criminal defense, plaintiff lawyer, corporate defense. As a judge, conservatives and liberals alike felt he ruled on the facts and the law as a fair and unbiased judge. The coalition of his supporters from Mississippi made for interesting partnerships: Attorney General Mike Moore and his trial lawyer friends on the same side as Republicans.

A number of Mississippians were close to Biden, his staff, and his brother Jim. Former Governor William Winter and other supporters planned a trip to visit Biden in Washington DC to discuss the Pickering nomination. Biden sent word the trip was unnecessary. Pickering thought this a positive development, until the next shoe dropped: the Democratic offer of an unacceptable deal.

Judge Pickering's son, Congressman Chip Pickering, was in a redistricting fight which combined his district with that of Congressman Ronnie Shows. How the district was drawn would determine advantage in the election between the incumbents. Word came that Biden's vote could come more easily, if Chip would not oppose the Democrats' redistricting plan, and would guarantee Pickering's replacement on the federal district bench would be black.

Judge Pickering scoffed at the deal, "We quit child sacrifice a long time ago." He wrote, "There was no consideration of Chip caving on redistricting. There was no opposition to an African American as my replacement. I believe the Mississippi federal bench needs more diversity....There was a willingness for this to happen, but unwillingness to do a 'quid pro quo'."

Even without the deal, it seemed Biden might still be the necessary cross-over Democrat to get Pickering to the full Senate. The White House released a statement of Biden's during the Clinton Administration where the Senator said, "I also respectfully suggest that everyone who is nominated is entitled to a hearing and to have a shot to be heard on the floor and have a vote on the floor." Biden claimed the White House was pressuring him and responded by opposing Pickering.

In his book, Pickering suggests other motives, "First, he wanted to preserve his option to run for president... he didn't want to be the only potential Democrat candidate for president to alienate the Far Left groups by helping get me to the floor. Second, he and his trial lawyer friends from Mississippi had a falling out, removing their influence in his decision-making."

Publically and privately, Biden did not believe Pickering a bad nomination. He rejected racial criticisms of Pickering as well as denying accusations of inequitable sentencing. In private, he told supporters he thought Pickering a good judge who deserved a vote. Biden even approached Senator Trent Lott and told him while he could not vote to confirm Pickering, he would vote to end a filibuster. Biden later confirmed this with the press.

When Republicans regained control of the Senate, Bush re-nominated Pickering, and his nomination went to the full Senate. Biden crawfished again. He claimed he couldn't support Pickering because the White House should not have re-nominated him after the committee failed to act the first time. How Biden expected to keep his commitment to Lott to oppose a filibuster of Pickering, without Pickering being re-nominated, is a question only a lawyer could love.

Biden bent to political pressure rather than doing what he thought was right. He chose party over principle. In the grand scheme, Pickering's nomination was a minor battle. But in the character of Joe Biden, we see a failure to exhibit the courage necessary to honor a commitment to do the right thing.

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at