March 03, 2005

Should Pryor Be Confirmed?

Oswald Sobrino from Catholics in the Public Square thinks that Bill Pryor, one of Bush's judicial nominees blocked by a Democratic filibuster, should be confirmed. Mr. Sobrino points us to an article in the Opinion Journal that questions why the Democrats have prevented Pryor's appointment "since he is viewed by all sectors of Alabama society--white, black, Democrat, Republican--as a man of integrity and fairness." We are told that Mr. Pryor is a strong Catholic from a strong Catholic background, that he is consistently pro-life, and that the Democrats are blocking his appointment because they fear the success of an intelligent, young conservative.

After doing some research, I question the statement that Bill Pryor is "unabashedly pro-life."

The first and most disturbing part of Bill Pryor's record is his past with the death penalty. When he was running for Attorney General of Alabama in 2002, he wanted the execution of eight prisoners to be moved up. According to his opponents, Pryor wanted these executions moved up so that they would be executed prior to the 2002 vote. Pryor also objected to the Atkins v. Virginia ruling by the Supreme Court that prohibited the execution of the mentally retarded and people with brain damage. He has also objected to Ring v. Arizona, which mandated that only juries could impose the death penalty. Even Justice Scalia, an ardent defender of the death penalty, ruled in favor of jury decisions in Ring v. Arizona. It is also true that Pryor's home state of Alabama has sentenced more juveniles to death per capita than any other state in the Union, indicating that Pryor must oppose the recent Supreme Court decision to prohibit the execution of juveniles. In summary, it seems that Pryor is an advocate of unfettered capital punishment, which is, in fact, a violation of Catholic social teaching.

I would also question his actual commitment to the anti-abortion cause, since Pryor approves of the execution of juveniles. I see little difference between the killing of a fetal human being and the killing of a juvenile human being, but apparently Bill Pryor thinks it's fine to execute a juvenile but atrocious to have an abortion. To be frank, that doesn't make any sense and it flies in the face of Catholic social teaching.

I have other concerns with Bill Pryor's confirmation:

- He opposes the Voting Rights Act, and has asked Congress to repeal or amend Section 5. The Voting Rights Act is widely regarded as the most important piece of civil rights legislation ever passed, and Pryor's opposition has led many civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King III, to oppose his confirmation.

- Bill Pryor filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief with the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of Alabama, South Carolina and Utah asking the Supreme Court to uphold the Texas "Homosexual Conduct Law." Thus, Bill Pryor believes that gays and lesbians should be imprisoned for private sexual conduct in their own homes. This finds no basis whatsoever in Catholic social teaching.

- Bill Pryor opposed United States v. Virginia, which ruled that women could be admitted to the Virginia Military Institute. In doing so, Pryor endorsed sex discrimination in education.

- In Hope v. Pelzer, Bill Pryor defended Alabama's practice of handcuffing prison inmates to hitching posts in the hot sun if they refused to work on chain gangs or otherwise disrupted them. The Supreme Court, thankfully, rejected Pryor's insidious argument. The practice of both the hitching post and the chain gang constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in the United States Constitution, and it is certainly inconsistent with Catholic social teaching.

- Bill Pryor opposed the Violence Against Women Act passed by Congress in 1994 and enhanced in 2000 on the grounds that it violated states' rights. Pryor's amicus curiae brief was the only one that opposed the Violence Against Women Act, with thirty-six states filing briefs in support of the Act.

Since the Senate filibuster which prevented Pryor from receiving a lifetime appointment to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Pryor has been given a temporary appointment by President Bush. Now President Bush has again sent his nomination to the Senate, hoping that the Republican majority will either overrule a Democratic filibuster or change the Senate rules so that filibusters can no longer be used to prevent judicial nominations. Unfortunately, it appears that some conservative Catholics are going to support Bill Pryor's confirmation based on his anti-abortion stance, ignoring his other serious violations of Catholic social teaching.

There is no justification for supporting Bill Pryor's confirmation, because judicial appointments are wholly unlike presidential elections. In a presidential election, there are only two candidates, and a case could be made that the most anti-abortion of the two should receive the Catholic vote. When it comes to judicial appointments, however, the President can and should find a judicial nominee who opposes abortion but also opposes other offenses against the dignity of human life. If Bill Pryor is confirmed and receives a lifetime appointment to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, he will be able to impose his radically unconstitutional and anti-life views on the death penalty, voting rights, gay rights, educational discrimination, cruel and unusual punishment and violence against women upon the entire 11th Circuit -- which has jurisdiction in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. There is also the possibility that a future Republican President, or this one, will appoint him to the Supreme Court of the United States.

It is my opinion that American Catholics must not allow this "Catholic In Name Only" (CINO) to be permanently elevated to the federal appeals court. The fact that he is an anti-abortion Catholic is not enough; we can and should expect pro-life Catholics who are consistently pro-life to be appointed to the federal bench. If anything, Catholics should take this opportunity to fraternally correct Bill Pryor by opposing his confirmation to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

- - - - - - - - - -

Further Reading:

- "Killer Bill Pryor's Mad Quest for the Federal Bench," by Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch.

- "William Pryor: Unfit to Judge," People for the American Way.

- "William Pryor's Record," NOW with Bill Moyers, PBS.

- "Judge Pryor Should Be Confirmed," by Oswald Sobrino, Catholics in the Public Square.

- "Pryor Impressions," by Quin Hillyer, Opinion Journal.

Action Alerts:

- Contact the Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and express your support for a Democratic filibuster of the Pryor confirmation.

- Contact the Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), and encourage him to oppose Pryor's confirmation to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

- Contact Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and ask him to oppose Pryor's confirmation to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

- Contact your Senators and ask them to oppose the Pryor confirmation.

- Contact President Bush and ask him to withdraw Pryor's nomination for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.