Bill Pryor, Attorney General of Alabama, can’t win for losing. Nominated for a federal judgeship by President Bush, Senate Democrats grilled him about his views on hot-button social issues. Did he really mean to say that Roe v. Wade is an abomination? He told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did. Not only was it wrongly decided from a constitutional perspective, he said, but also it has “led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children.”
Ouch. Party foul.
Democrats then attacked him for his conservative views on federalism, the separation of church and state and numerous other issues. They brought up the fact that he had publicly promised to end his prayers for “the next administration: Please God, no more Souters.” People for the American Way fed them material calling him “a leader of the modern state’s rights movement”–which National Review‘s Byron York noted was “a not-too-subtle attempt to link Pryor to Southern defenses of segregation.”
Pryor admirably and steadfastly refused to back down from his previous positions to curry favor with Charles Schumer, Ted Kennedy and other Judiciary Committee Democrats. His defense was two-fold: First, he noted that he had a strong record of consistently applying the law even when he strongly disagreed with it. Second, he pointed out that the Supreme Court ruled in his favor in some of the contentious federalism cases in question, disproving the implication that his views are outside the judicial mainstream.
But the Democrats were not impressed. They launched a filibuster of his nomination to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that his “deeply held beliefs” (i.e., conservative Catholic beliefs) would make it impossible for him to fairly carry out his duties. Senate Republicans were unable to break the filibuster with a cloture vote and President Bush was unwilling to withdraw the nomination, so the process has been in suspended animation on account of the deadlock.
Fast forward to the controversy over the Ten Commandments in Alabama. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore erected a 5,280-pound monument bearing the commandments in the state’s judicial building some time after assuming office. Pryor supported the display. But not everyone did. The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit to have the Ten Commandments removed on First Amendment establishment clause grounds. Moore, Pryor and many other prominent Alabamian legal conservatives argued that the monument was in fact constitutionally permissible.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson took a different view. Predictably in the context of a half-century of liberal readings of the First Amendment, he ruled that the display was an unconstitutional establishment of religion and issued an order to have it removed.
Moore defied this order, arguing that Thompson was misinterpreting the First Amendment, preventing the state of Alabama from acknowledging God as the source of law and liberty and overstepping his jurisdiction as limited by the Tenth Amendment. This set the stage for a confrontation between Alabama’s highest court and the federal judiciary, a constitutional crisis of sorts.
With a federal court ordering the state to kick a monument that Pryor supported and believed was constitutionally permissible, a case with implications for both federalism and First Amendment church-state jurisprudence, what was a conservative Catholic with “deeply held beliefs” to do? Side with Moore in defiance of the federal court order?
Instead, Pryor argued that even though Thompson’s ruling was wrong, it was a duly issued court order that must be obeyed. Backed by a ruling from the other eight Alabama justices, Pryor moved to have the monument removed from the judiciary building’s rotunda in compliance with federal court order.
Thus, Pryor once again proved he is able to faithfully discharge his duties as a public official even when it means adhering to laws and court decisions he strongly disagrees with. Did this prompt the Democrats who had blocked his judicial nomination to reconsider their opposition in light of the new evidence? No. Pryor’s critics either ignored his actions in the Ten Commandments case or questioned his sincerity. Instead, he found himself with new critics–his angry conservative Christian former supporters!
The Associated Press reported that some 150 Ten Commandments supporters protested outside Pryor’s office chanting, “Resign now!” Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition told reporters, “Bill Pryor should be protecting the citizens of Alabama instead of campaigning to get confirmation to the 11th circuit.” Look for liberal activists to echo this interpretation of Pryor’s motives.
So when Bill Pryor shows his strong convictions do not cloud his ability to fairly apply and abide by the law even when he disagrees, he gets no credit from liberal Democrats who insist that is their criteria for proper judicial temperament. Instead, he gets criticism from the conservative Christians who need more judges like him on the bench, even though they would be more likely to prevail on the Ten Commandments following his legal strategy than Moore’s.
It’s hard for a guy with “deeply held beliefs” to catch a break in today’s political climate. Just ask Bill Pryor.
Freelance writer W. James Antle III is a senior editor of Enter Stage Right.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles