The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday handed President Bush an embarrassing defeat on a judicial nomination. The vote was preceded by sharply partisan debate on the controversial nominee.

The Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to reject Mr. Bush's nominee, Charles Pickering, a conservative Mississippi judge, to sever on a federal appeals court.

Voting 10 to nine in a series of three votes, the Democratic-led panel blocked the nomination from full Senate consideration, as President Bush had requested.

Democratic opponents, including Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, criticized Judge Pickering's conservative voting record and his record on civil rights. "In the area that I have been most concerned of, that is issues dealing with civil rights, employment issues, job rights, voting rights, other important fundamental commitments it seems to me this nominee fails to meet the kind of criteria in his core commitment to these fundamental values that warrant and justify an affirmative vote," said Senator Kennedy.

Supporters strongly disagreed, saying Judge Pickering has a solid history of fair rulings. They also cited examples of his backing for civil rights.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, said Judge Pickering was the target of what he called a smear campaign by liberal interest groups. He said these groups were seeking to impose "an ideological litmus test" involving issues such as abortion rights and civil rights. "What is really going on here is an attempt to change the ground rules for judicial confirmations," he said. "Some have complained President Bush has not sent mainstream 'consensus' nominees to the Senate for confirmation. The problem with this is that those propound it seem to define 'mainstream' nominees as nominees who agree with them on divisive social issues such as abortion."

President Bush expressed his deep disappointment over the vote.

Many Senators viewed the heated debate over Judge Pickering's nomination as a possible preview for when Mr. Bush gets an opportunity to make a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.