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Democratic senator under fire for 'lynching' comment

Miller stands by remark

Sen. Zell Miller, D-Georgia, makes a point during a recent talk-show appearance.
Sen. Zell Miller, D-Georgia, makes a point during a recent talk-show appearance.

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Zell Miller
Civil Rights

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia came under fire Friday from civil rights activists who demanded an apology from the conservative Democrat after he equated his party's opposition to the nomination of a conservative African-American judge to a lynching.

Miller -- who has already rankled Democrats by endorsing President Bush for re-election -- refused to apologize.

"Either Senator Miller has conveniently forgotten a frightening period of American history, or he is willfully demeaning all those African-Americans who were hung from trees throughout the period of racial segregation in the South," said Wade Henderson, the director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Henderson and others were reacting to comments made by Miller on the Senate floor around 2 a.m Friday, when he blasted Democrats for blocking the nomination of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Miller was taking part in a marathon debate in the Senate where Republicans criticized Democrats for blocking some of President Bush's judicial nominees and Republicans blasted the administration's economic policies. Miller, who has often broken ranks with his party leaders, supports GOP efforts to end the filibusters of the judicial nominees.

Brown is the daughter of an Alabama sharecropper who entered the law field after being inspired by lawyers during the civil rights movement.

"The Democrats in this chamber refuse to stand and let her do it. They're standing in the doorway, and they've got a sign: Conservative African-American women need not apply. And if you have the temerity to do so your reputation will be shattered and your dignity will be shredded. Gal, you will be lynched," Miller said.

Henderson then called on Miller, the former governor of Georgia, to apologize -- a call that was echoed by Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

"I was offended. I think it was unfortunate," Daschle said. "I think those within the civil rights leadership who have commented and have asked for an apology are right."

Henderson said, "Senator Zell Miller's comment equating opposition to the nomination of Janice Rogers Brown to a lynching is despicable on its face."

Miller refused to back down from his comment, releasing a statement later in the day saying he is "not the first to use this analogy." He said African-American columnist Thomas Sowell "first used it" in a column on October 24, and "I think it sums up the situation accurately."

"The tragedy here does not lie in my floor speech this morning. The tragedy lies in what is happening in the United States Senate to this highly qualified conservative, African-American jurist," he said.

"I would put my record on civil rights up against anyone's. As Georgia's governor, I named more African-Americans to state boards than any Georgia governor, and I named more African-Americans to judgeships than all previous governors combined. I named an African-American female as the first to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court. I also appointed an African-American as state Attorney General, the first one in the nation at the time."

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