Alliance for Justice Report in Opposition to the Nomination of William H. Pryor to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, nominated by President Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, is an ultra-conservative activist whose record disqualifies him from a lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary. Throughout his career, Pryor has taken controversial positions on enough issues to offend nearly every constituency. Even the Washington Post, which has supported many of President Bush’s most controversial nominees, has declared Pryor “Unfit to Judge.”1 The Senate should reject his nomination.
Pryor has been one of the architects of the “states’ rights” movement, affirmatively choosing to thrust himself—and the state of Alabama—into nearly every effort to limit Congressional authority and undermine federal civil rights and environmental protections. Not satisfied with the sweeping federalism rulings of the Rehnquist Court, Pryor continues to push relentlessly to strip the federal government of power to deal with pressing societal problems. The lengths to which Pryor is willing to go to advance this agenda were dramatically evident in his efforts to dismantle a consent decree that required the state to provide more services to at-risk children. Pryor’s statement defending this action boldly revealed his political priorities: “My job is to make sure the state of Alabama isn’t run by a federal court. My job isn’t to come here and help children.”
Pryor has a disturbing record of hostility toward the rights of women and minorities. He has been a relentless opponent of a woman’s constitutional right to reproductive choice, calling Roe v. Wade “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” He has also fought strenuously against legal protections for gays and lesbians, in one case comparing homosexuality to necrophilia and bestiality. With regard to discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, Pryor has defended criminal ordinances that disproportionately target minority youth and has called for the repeal of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act .
Pryor has a blatant record of opposition to environmental protections and has challenged the constitutionality of significant portions of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air Act. He has also demonstrated a lack of respect for the constitutional wall separating church and state, vocally defending Chief Justice Roy Moore’s display of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Pryor’s vigorous advocacy for the death penalty, aggressive defense of correctional officers who employed abusive practices in disciplining prisoners, and zealous efforts to weaken the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the accused suggest a fundamental disregard for principles of fairness and equal justice for all. Pryor’s personal and professional support for gun owners strongly suggests that he would be incapable, if confirmed, of impartially presiding over matters involving the regulation of the use and possession of firearms.
Pryor is an extremist ideologue with a temperament unfit for the bench. He went to law school to fight the ACLU—which he calls the “anti-American Civil Liberties Union”—and became a leader of the right-wing Federalist Society. He has used his position as Alabama Attorney General to pursue his own ideological agenda, leading him repeatedly to involve the state in controversies in which it has no real interest, such as Bush v. Gore. Pryor’s frequent outrageous and intemperate remarks concerning judicial rulings with which he disagrees confirm that he could not be fair and impartial on the bench.
Moreover, Pryor’s political activism and ideological extremism have pushed him into a number of ethically troubling actions. Pryor was one of the founders of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), an organization that has raised money for the election of Republican attorneys general from corporations that may have been the subjects of suits or investigations by their offices, but Pryor steadfastly refuses to identify RAGA’s donors. Pryor may also have leaked confidential strategy memoranda to the tobacco company defendants in the states’ lawsuit to recover Medicaid money spent treating smoking-related illness.
The Alliance for Justice strongly opposes William Pryor’s confirmation.
William Pryor is only forty-one years old, born on April 26, 1962 in Mobile, Alabama. He received his undergraduate degree magna cum laude in 1984 from Northeast Louisiana University, and his law degree magna cum laude in 1987 from the Tulane University School of Law. Following law school, he clerked for Fifth Circuit Judge John Minor Wisdom. From 1988 through 1995, he worked as an associate in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama, first with the firm of Cabaniss, Johnston, Gardner, Dumas & O’Neal, and then with the firm of Walston, Stabler, Wells, Anderson & Bains. From 1991 through 1995, he also taught as an adjunct professor at the Cumberland School of Law at Alabama’s Samford University. He left private practice in 1995 to serve as Deputy Attorney General in the constitutional and civil litigation section under then-Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions. When Sessions was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1997, Governor Fob James appointed Pryor to complete Sessions’ term.2 In 1998, Pryor was elected to a full-four year term as Alabama’s Attorney General, and he was re-elected in 2002. On April 9, 2003, President George W. Bush nominated him for a seat on the Eleventh Circuit.
The Eleventh Circuit
Pryor has been nominated to a predominately conservative court that is currently made up of six Republican and five Democratic appointees. His confirmation would move the Eleventh Circuit further to the right, and add another white male to a court that has only two minority judges (one African-American and one Hispanic) representing the large minority populations of the states covered by the court – Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.
Affiliation with Right-Wing Groups
Pryor said that he chose Tulane University law school in part because “they didn’t have any wild-eyed leftist student organizations.”3 After discovering the existence of a liberal law students’ group, Pryor responded by founding a student chapter of the right-wing Federalist Society, an organization for whom he currently serves as Chairman-Elect of the Federalism and Separation of Powers Practice Group.4 Pryor also sits on the Legal Policy Advisory Board of the Washington Legal Foundation, which has spearheaded lawsuits to undermine the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action efforts, and environmental protection laws.5 He has spoken frequently before numerous ideologically conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Christian Coalition, the National Rifle Association, the Cato Institute, and the Federalist Society.6