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Scales of Justice
7.11.03
Politics and Economy:
A Justice for All?
More on This Story:
William Pryor's Record

NOW's July 11, 2003 segment "A Justice for All" documented the heated battle over President Bush's nomination of William H. Pryor, Jr. to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. On July 23, 2003, Pryor's nomination was advanced by a strict party-line vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ten Republicans voted for Pryor and nine Democrats against — causing a bitter battle and Democratic filibuster when the nomination reached the Senate floor for a full vote.

In February 2004 during a weeklong Congressional recess, President Bush announced Pryor's appointment to the 11th Circuit Court, thereby bypassing the Congressional vote process. Recess appointments such as this one are within the President's power when a judicial emergency arises; as the seat filled by Pryor had been vacant since December 2000, this vacancy was listed as a judicial emergency. Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy called the appointment "a flagrant abuse of presidential power," but the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, spoke of his own confidence that Pryor would "impartially interpret the law and uphold justice."

Unless Pryor is confirmed by the Senate, his term on the bench will end in late 2005.

Below, you be the judge — follow links to read Pryor's previous decisions and make up your own mind on the issue. Plus, review the arguments of the groups who support Pryor's nomination, and those who oppose it. To learn more about the national legal system and the judicial nomination process visit our Federal Court System page.



WILLIAM PRYOR, FEDERALIST

William Pryor's biography on the Alabama Attorney General's Web site lays out his strong belief in federalism/states' rights. Attorney General Pryor is "a conservative leader for the cause of limited government, judicial restraint, and free enterprise." His belief in the sovereignty of states as opposed to the federal government informs many of his most controversial decisions.


ON THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT

The Violence Against Women Act was passed by Congress in 1994 and was enhanced in 2000. The Act provided stiff penalties for repeat offenders as well as federal support and funding for programs like domestic violence hotlines, education and crime prevention programs. The Act also allowed victims to bring gender-based violence suits in federal courts. In United States v. Morrison, the Act was challenged on the grounds that this right to sue was beyond the scope of Congressional authority. Thirty-six states filed amicus briefs in support of the right to sue under VAWA. Attorney General Pryor filed the only amicus brief opposing the law on the grounds that it violated states' rights.


The most important decision of this term regarding federalism was United States v. Morrison, 120 S.Ct. 1740 (2000), decided on May 15...At issue in Morrison was the authority of Congress to enact a civil remedy in federal court for victims of rape as part of the Violence Against Women Act. The Court responded with gusto by declaring this civil remedy to be unconstitutional. The main argument of the United States in defense of the civil remedy was that Congress had the power to create the remedy in response to the substantial affect of violent sexual crimes on interstate commerce. The Court rejected that argument with a strong defense of federalism. — William Pryor, "The Supreme Court as Guardian of Federalism"


ON ABORTION

Mr. Pryor was outspoken about his opposition to abortion during his confirmation hearings. As Attorney General he has been party to suits concerning parent notification for minors seeking abortions, a suit involving protests at clinics providing abortions and a suit filed by the Right to Life, Inc. concerning campaign finance laws.

Twenty-seven years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Roe v. Wade that penumbras of the U.S. Constitution provide a right to abortion. The court swept aside the laws of fifty states and, therefore, the longstanding political consensus of the American people. — "Improving the Image of the Legal Profession by Restoring the Rule of Law," Address by William Pryor, Attorney General of Alabama, Montgomery County Bar Association, Wednesday, May 3, 2000

ON GAY RIGHTS

Attorney General Pryor filed an amicus brief in the case Lawrence v. Texas favoring the upholding of the Texas sodomy law. The Supreme Court struck down the Texas law in June, 2003.


ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

Both the Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit have taken the opposing side to Attorney General Pryor on the issue of capital punishment for convicted criminals considered mentally retarded. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Pryor disagreed with the court's ruling and Alabama went forward with plans to execute a man named Glenn Holladay, said by his attorney to have an IQ of 64. The Supreme Court and — more recently — the 11th Circuit Court have intervened to stay Holladay's execution.


ON SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

Attorney General Pryor's support of an Alabama judge's opening of court proceedings with and display of the 10 Commandments in a federal court building has caused concern among strict advocates of the separation of church and state. Pryor has also filed amicus briefs on school prayer issues.

In the years following the school prayer decision, it seems our government has lost God...The American experiment is not a theocracy and does not establish an official religion, but the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are rooted in a Christian perspective of the nature of government and the nature of man. The challenge of the next millennium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective. — Commencement Speech by Attorney General Bill Pryor to the 1997 McGill-Toolen Graduating Class


ON EMPLOYMENT AND EDUCATIONAL LAW

William Pryor has also argued many cases on a federalist basis which bear on education and employment law. These arguments were made on the basis that the states should be immune from damage suits. Read more below.


SUPPORTERS OF PRYOR'S NOMINATION


OPPONENTS OF PRYOR'S NOMINATION

Additional sources: THE NEW YORK TIMES; THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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