Pryor's Judicial Nomination Draws Ire of Christians

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

( - Liberal interest groups have made no secret of their disdain for Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, but now a handful of Christian organizations are opposing his nomination to a federal appeals court as well.

Citing Pryor's conservative values, Senate Democrats last week blocked a vote on his nomination for a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was the second time since July he faced a filibuster. He is one of four nominees being held up in the Senate.

The Christian groups are opposing Pryor partly for his involvement in a Ten Commandments dispute in Alabama. After a lengthy court fight, a 2.5-ton Ten Commandments monument was removed in August from the Alabama Judicial Building.

Even though Pryor said he believed the Ten Commandments were the foundation of Alabama law, he vowed to obey a federal court order to remove the monument. His decision frustrated Christian activists like Mark Iain Sutherland, president of the Positive Action Coalition.

"This man should never serve on the federal bench," Sutherland said. "He is a man without solid convictions, a man who turns on his friends when politically expedient, a man who fails to grasp simple constitutional principle, a man who if confirmed will legislate from the bench due to a complete lack of understanding as to the constitutional limits of the federal judiciary."

Instead of vowing to obey the court order, Sutherland said Pryor should have stood in support of Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore, who installed the monument and was later suspended for his refusal to move it.

Instead, Pryor criticized the chief justice's action. By disobeying the court order, the state would have faced fines of $5,000 for every day the monument remained in the courthouse.

"The rule of law means that no person, including the chief justice of Alabama, is above the law," Pryor said in a statement at the time. "The rule of law means that when courts resolve disputes, after all appeals and arguments, we all must obey the orders of those courts even when we disagree with those orders."

Some of the groups opposing Pryor's nomination include the Positive Action Coalition, Vision Forum, American Vision and the National Coalition to Restore the Constitution.

As the opposition builds, however, the head of the Committee for Justice, a group that defends President Bush's nominees, warned Pryor's critics that nothing positive could come from their criticism.

"The right way to fight this fight is in the political and intellectual realm, and over time get better judges on the bench," said Sean Rushton, the group's executive director. "It's not by calling on current law enforcement officers to simply refuse to do their jobs."

Rushton added, "This is a good example of how conservatives end up fighting each other and blowing each other up when we should be fighting the other side."

That hasn't stopped Pryor's opponents from making their disapproval increasingly known. Debbie Hopper, co-founder of the National Coalition to Restore the Constitution, said Christians wouldn't be able to trust Pryor as a judge because of his decisions as attorney general.

Vision Forum President Doug Phillips, in his daily blog, said Pryor has flip-flopped in his support for Christian values.

Phillips cited an affidavit from former Alabama Gov. Forrest H. "Fob" James Jr., a Republican who appointed Pryor as attorney general. In the affidavit, James disclosed that Pryor promised to disobey federal court orders if they conflicted with the Constitution. James said he now opposes Pryor's nomination because of his actions in the Ten Commandments case.

"The main reason Pryor was appointed was his understanding, and the ability to express that understanding, well, that a public official's highest duty was to the Constitution of the United States and not to the Supreme Court or any other entity," James wrote in the affidavit.

American Vision President Gary DeMar outlined his opposition in a letter to World magazine. DeMar expressed his frustrations with an article portraying the attorney general in a positive light.

"Pryor does not seem to be aware of his own state's constitutional history," DeMar wrote. "Without violating his oath, in complete compliance with constitutional theory and maintaining the rule of law, he could have rejected the jurisdictional usurpation of the federal courts."

Liberal critics of Pryor said it was ironic that the attorney general was facing criticism from Christian activists. Marcia Kuntz, director of the Judicial Selection Project at the Alliance for Justice, said it shows the evidence continues to mount against Pryor.

"If Fob James' allegations are true," Kuntz said, "it's just incomprehensible the Senate would consider a nominee for a seat on the federal bench who would have so little respect for the rule of law that he would defy a court order."

See Earlier Story:
Dems Again Block Pryor's Nomination; Senate Panel OKs Brown
(Nov. 6, 2003)

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