Federal Court Nominees Part 2: Judge William H. Pryor

Friday, April 29, 2005

Here is a look at the nomination of William H. Pryor. Mr. Pryor as Attorney General of Alabama he helped found the Republican Attorney General Association (RAGA), which raises campaign donations from corporations. This does raise an ethics question due to the fact that as Attorney General his responsibilities may require him to investigate, prosecute or sue the very same corporations he took donations from. In particular, he collected $25,000 each from two tobacco companies that documents to the Judicial Committee show he was assigned to.
Pryor was co-chair of the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign in Alabama. Interestingly enough Pryor was the only Attorney General in the country to file an amicus brief in support of President Bush's posistion in the case Bush v Gore.
In 2001 Pryor received the National Rifle Associations Legislative Achievement Award for fighting frivolous lawsuits against the gun industry. During a 1999 news conference, Pryor was quoted as saying "these types of lawsuits threaten the entire business community. The free market and the cause of human liberty cannot survive much more of this litigation madness, gun suits are a clear and present danger to the rule of the law." Pryor has also recieved campaign contributions from the NRA in 1998 and 2002.
Pryor vigorously opposed the lawsuit filed by states against the tobacco companies. In a Wall Street Journal interview Pryor went on to say "this wave of lawsuits is about politics, not law, and money, not public health."
Pryor has been a vocal proponent of former Judge Roy Moore who is best known for displaying the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court, and for having Christian clergymen give prayers when jurors first assembled in his courtroom. In a 1999 speech to the Christian Coalition Pryor warned: "One of the greatest threats to the Judeo Christian perspective is the building of the naked public square, in which religious expression and religiously grounded morality are systematically excluded from our public life." On the subject of religion Pryor has also been quoted as saying "the challenge of the next millennium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective." In a 1997 Save the Commandments rally in Montgomery, Pryor stated: "God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time and this place for all Christians to save our country and save our courts."
On the subject of gay rights Pryor filed an amicus brief in support of the state of Colorado in its defense of a voter initiative that prohibited local governments from enacting laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. In explanation of why he filed the amicus brief, Pryor stated: "The attorney general of Alabama felt strongly that we don't need to be finding new rights in our Constitution because we've done enough of that in recent years." Pryor has also filed an anti-gay brief on behalf of Alabama in the case Lawrence v Texas, urging the Supreme Court to uphold Texas' law banning only same-sex sodomy. Justifing his argument on the issue Pryor said "the States should not be required to accept, as a matter of constitutional doctrine, that homosexual activity is harmless and does not expose both the individual and the public to deleterious spiritual and physical consequences". The Supreme Court rejected Pryor's argument stating that "liberty protects the person from unwarranted intrusions into the dwelling or other private places." Justice Anthony Kennedy went on further to say "it suffices for us to acknowledge that adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons."
On the subject of rights of the accused, Pryor has said that the Supreme Courts ruling in Miranda v Arizona was "one of the worst examples of judicial activism." In the case Alabama v Shelton he argued that the principles of federalism entitled states not to provide attorneys to poor defendants facing misdemeanor convictions and suspended sentences of imprisonment. The defendant was tried without counsel, convicted of third-degree assault, and sentenced to a jail term of 30 days. The Supreme Court rejected Pryor's ruling 5-4 in spite of Pryor's argument that "requiring states to provide attorneys to poor defendants would divert resources away from more important functions of the criminal justice system." In the case Hope v Pelzer Pryor defended the practice of handcuffing unruly inmates to a hitching post in the prison court yard. Pryor defended the actions of the prison officials by saying "we believe that front-line officers following the rules as they understand them are entitled to be free from liability from these kinds of lawsuits." The Supreme Court however did not agree with Pryor and ruled 6-3 that the Alabama correction officers could be sued for money damages, because they should have known that handcuffing a prisoner to a restraining bar was a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
On the subject of the death penalty Pryor has filed a brief in the Supreme Court supporting the execution of the mentally retarded. In Atkins v Virginia Pryor filed an amicus brief in support of Virginia's position that executing the mentally retarded did not violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court, by a margin of 5-4, ruled that executing the mentally retarded violated the Constitution's Eighth Amendment. In 2000 Alabama was one of only three states to use the electric chair as its method of execution. When the Supreme Court issued a stay of an Alabama death row inmate's execution to consider whether death by electric chair constituted cruel and unusual punishment, Pryor told the press: "This issue should not be decided by nine octogenarian lawyers who happen to sit on the Supreme Court."
Judge Pryor has long criticized the plaintiffs' bar, and sought to limit individual's access to the civil justice system. In 1997 Pryor told the Wall Street Journal "this taxation through litigation is accomplished in a remarkably inefficient manner as huge sums of money are skimmed off the top by those leftist bounty hunters also known as trial lawyers." In another public speech this time to the American Shooting Sports Council, Pryor stated: "the liberal agenda of denying individual responsibility is taken a step further by those leftist bounty hunters who are slick experts in representing alleged victims of corporate greed."
By his own admission Pryor became a lawyer because he wanted to "fight the ACLU- the Anti-American Civil Liberties Union."

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