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Politics and Economy:
A Justice for All?
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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.


Background on the Story

There were two very contentious issues raised during the final days of the Judiciary Committee's hearings on Pryor. These may prove crucial in the final vote, as the Senate is closely split 51 - 48.

One matter under scrutiny was Attorney General Pryor's fundraising activities for RAGA, the Republican Attorneys General Association, a group Pryor helped found in 1999. At issue was whether Pryor had solicited funds from companies that did business in Alabama or industries such as tobacco, energy or banking, which are subject to state regulation and are often investigated by state attorney generals in the public interest.

The controversy was stirred up when a RAGA official supplied the committee with documents which appeared to show that Pryor had indeed solicited funds from such entities. Democrats insisted that the vote on Mr. Pryor's nomination be postponed a week while the matter was investigated.

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The other flashpoint of the final days of the Pryor hearings was religion — specifically Catholicism. At issue was a television campaign run by the Committee for Justice, a group led by C. Boyden Gray, an official in President Bush's father's administration. The ads featured a locked courthouse door with a sign reading, "Catholics need not apply."

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, several of them Catholic were outraged.

Do you know what's interesting? Not a single member on your side has either... has objected to this ad, has said what is obvious to anybody who sees it, that it's despicable and it is injecting religion in a way that smacks of the McCarthy era. But instead, as I listen to these arguments, it appears that some on your side are embracing the ad. — Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

Some committee members expressed unhappiness that the question of Attorney General Pryor's religion had been raised at all by Senator Hatch during early question sessions. On the other hand, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) maintained that the Catholic Church's position on abortion made the question of religious affiliation a nearly automatic disqualification in the eyes of some committee members.

You can make up your own mind by reviewing Pryor's record. To learn more about the national legal system and the judicial nomination process visit our Federal Court System page.

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