Pryor's Problems: Federal Appeals Court Nominee with Record of Hostility to Church-State Separation Becomes Mired in Senate Debate

By Leaming, Jeremy | Church & State, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Pryor's Problems: Federal Appeals Court Nominee with Record of Hostility to Church-State Separation Becomes Mired in Senate Debate


Leaming, Jeremy, Church & State


Bill Pryor was hardly apologetic. Before a narrowly divided Senate Judiciary Committee, Pryor, with little wavering, defended his career as Alabama's attorney general and argued that if his nomination to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were confirmed, he would prove an impartial and competent judge, devoid of an ideological agenda. He stood by his ongoing defense of "Ten Commandments" Judge Roy Moore, his frequent trashing of Roe v. Wade and his strident advocacy of states' rights.

Despite withering questions about his views on church-state separation, reproductive rights and other social issues and his connection to a fund-raising scheme for Republican attorneys general, the Judiciary Committee voted in July along party-lines to send Pryor's nomination to the full Senate for consideration. After a heated committee hearing, at which Pryor's allies accused his critics of animus toward his religious beliefs, Pryor's nomination went to the floor of the Senate, where it was blocked by a filibuster led by Democrats.

The roiling debate over Pryor commenced not long after President George W. Bush nominated the 41-year-old attorney general to the 11th Circuit, which hears appeals in federal cases from Alabama, Georgia and Florida and is one step below the U.S. Supreme Court. When Bush announced Pryor's nomination in April, a chorus of voices in and outside the capital arose in opposition. Foes pointed out that Pryor's career had centered primarily on advancing an agenda hostile to church-state separation, reproductive rights and other constitutional and civil rights.

The criticisms of Pryor's record caught the attention of senators and pundits alike.

The Washington Post reported in June after Pryor testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that "Senate aides from both parties said he has perhaps the most controversial views of any nominee who has come up for confirmation during Bush's presidency." Newspapers such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution and the Post editorialized against Pryor's nomination.

In a July 23 editorial, called "An Extremist Judicial Nominee," The Times argued that if Pryor's nomination were confirmed, "his rulings on civil rights, abortion, gay rights and the separation of church and state would probably do substantial harm to the rights of all Americans."

Before the Senate Judiciary Committee's first hearing on the nomination, Americans United submitted a report detailing Pryor's legal career, which included a summary of his strident attacks on church-state separation and support for introducing Christianity into the government. The 11-page report detailed Pryor's unflagging support of Alabama Chief Justice Moore, who has fought an ongoing legal battle to keep a Ten Commandments monument housed within the state's central judicial building. The report, available online at www.au.org/pryor.htm, noted a 1997 pro-Moore rally at which Pryor proclaimed it was time "for all Christians--Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox--to save our country and save our Courts."

In another speech the same year at a private school in Alabama, Pryor said the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution "are rooted in a Christian perspective of the nature of government and the nature of man." Pryor added that the "challenge of the next millennium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective."

At an early June press briefing, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn suggested that, "Pryor's agenda sounds more like that of a right-wing TV preacher than a nominee to the federal appeals court. His words do not reflect the temperament and judgment required of those who would serve in the federal judiciary."

Joining Lynn at the press gathering were other public interest groups opposed to Pryor's nomination, including the Alliance for Justice and the NAACP. …

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