Pryor's Religion Triggers Debate; Democrats Target Catholic's Beliefs

Article excerpt

Byline: Charles Hurt, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A judicial confirmation hearing yesterday turned into a rancorous debate between Democrats and Republicans over whether it's possible for a devout Catholic to be confirmed to the federal bench.

Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor, a Catholic and President Bush's nominee to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, eventually was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote over the strident protests of Democrats.

Republicans plan to press for a vote on final confirmation later this week by the full Senate, where Mr. Pryor almost certainly will face a filibuster, unless Democrats can garner the votes needed to kill the nomination outright.

One Republican on the judiciary panel, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, agreed to send Mr. Pryor's nomination out of the committee but said he may vote against the nominee's confirmation on the Senate floor.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and leader of the Pryor defense team, attacked committee Democrats for holding against Mr. Pryor his opposition to abortion "even in the case of rape and incest."

"Let me tell you, the doctrine that abortion is not justified for rape and incest is Catholic doctrine," Mr. Sessions said. "It's the position of the pope, and it's the position of the Catholic Church.

"Are we saying that if you believe in that principle, you can't be a federal judge?" Mr. Sessions said.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and a pro-choice Catholic, responded, "As a person who was raised Catholic and is a practicing Catholic, I deeply resent this new line of attack from the right wing that anyone who opposes William Pryor is guilty of discrimination against him because he is a Catholic."

"There are many Catholics who see this nomination much differently than those who support Mr. Pryor," he said. "Many Catholics who oppose abortion personally do not believe the laws of the land should prohibit abortion for all others in extreme cases involving rape, incest and the life and health of the mother."

Mr. Durbin also told Mr. Sessions that Mr. Pryor's faithful adherence to Catholic doctrine is questionable.

"The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty," Mr. Durbin said. "Pryor is in favor of it. I'm not going to ask Senator Sessions to make a judgment as a Methodist whether that makes him a good Catholic or not."

The volley was the most pointed exchange yet over a growing belief among some Republicans that Democrats are filibustering or otherwise sidetracking several of Mr. …