Dems Again Block Pryor's Nomination; Senate Panel OKs Brown

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

( - Senate Democrats blocked Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor's judicial nomination for a second time Thursday. The filibuster came shortly after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown.

Republicans were unable to break the Democrat filibuster of Pryor, who was nominated by President Bush for a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The final vote, 51-43, fell short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. Democrats also blocked Pryor's nomination in July.

In addition to Pryor, Democrats have held up the nominations of former Justice Department attorney Miguel Estrada, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen and U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi. Estrada withdrew himself from consideration in September.

By voting Brown out of the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, Republicans are anticipating another showdown over her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. She is likely to become the fifth Bush nominee to face a filibuster.

Republicans and Democrats continued to bicker over the nominees Thursday, both on the Senate floor and in the committee. Democrats touted the 168 federal trial and appeals court judges who have been confirmed, while Republicans denounced what they view as obstructionism against a handful of nominees.

"We've been very careful when we've opposed nominees," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "We've tried to give the president ... the benefit of the doubt. But some nominees are so far out of the mainstream, it is so clear they are going to make law, not interpret law, we feel it's our constitutional obligation to our country and to the next generation of Americans to oppose them."

Schumer said Pryor fits into that category. But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, accused Democrats of carrying out a misinformation campaign. He said Pryor has shown an ability to separate his personal beliefs from his work as Alabama's attorney general.

"Sound bites are easy to make, but General Pryor's record speaks with far more authority than these stupid fulminations against him," Hatch said. "His opponents attack his personal beliefs, even though in every instance in which a conflict between those beliefs and the law has arisen in Bill Pryor's career, he has unfailingly put the law first."

Hatch cited a recent example from the Ten Commandments dispute involving suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore. Pryor said he believes the Ten Commandments are the foundation of the law, but he vowed to uphold a court order against the state.

One of Pryor's biggest supporters, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), said Senate Democrats had treated the nominee inappropriately.

"I've not known a single individual in my history of practicing law that's more committed, more dedicated, has more integrity about the issues that are important to the legal system of America, a man who's more committed to improving the rule of law in America," Sessions said. "Bill Pryor is that kind of person."

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), an opponent of Pryor and several other nominees, said the attorney general was simply unqualified for the position and an inappropriate selection by Bush.

"We count on federal judges to be open-minded and fair and have the highest integrity," Kennedy said. "We count on them to follow the law. Mr. Pryor has a First Amendment right to pursue his agenda as a lawyer or an advocate, but he does not have the open-mindedness and fairness essential to be a federal judge."

Another critic, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), asked Bush to withdraw Pryor's nomination.

Pryor has faced criticism for his religious beliefs, particularly his opposition to abortion. Brown, meanwhile, has been attacked for her opinions while on the California Supreme Court. She defended and clarified some of her positions at a hearing two weeks ago.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said the Judiciary Committee was rushing her nomination. He said committee members received written responses from Brown only Wednesday.

Hatch, however, charged ahead with a vote on Brown's nomination. The committee approved it on a 10-9 party-line vote.

Liberal interest groups have already lined up to lobby Democrats to filibuster Brown's nomination when it reaches the Senate floor. Judith C. Appelbaum, vice president and legal director at the National Women's Law Center, decried Brown's court opinions and speeches.

"Based on Justice Brown's record," Appelbaum said, "we fear that she will roll back women's most cherished legal protections: the right to choose, the right to be free from sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, and affirmative action programs aimed at opening opportunities for women-owned and minority-owned businesses, to name a few."

Added Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, "Justice Brown's record is replete with alarming examples of distortions or rejections of precedent and legislative intent."

Republicans, meanwhile, said they would continue to press Democrats for an up-or-down vote on nominees. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) attacked the Democrats' obstructionism.

"A bipartisan majority of the Senate would quickly confirm Justice Brown, like all other nominees now facing an unprecedented filibuster," Cornyn said, "if she were simply allowed a fair up-or-down vote."

See Related Story:
Black Conservatives Join Fight Over Stalled Judicial Nominees
(Nov. 5, 2003)

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