(CNSNews.com) - Once an ally of ousted Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor Thursday insisted he did not prosecute Moore because of the judge's stance on a Ten Commandments public display.
"I did not prosecute the chief justice for the Ten Commandments. I prosecuted the chief justice because he refused to obey a court order from a federal district court that had been affirmed by the court of appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States had decided not to review," Pryor told CNSNews.com.
Pryor commented shortly after Alabama's nine-member Court of the Judiciary stripped Moore of his position for defying the order of U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson to remove the Ten Commandments display from the rotunda of the state courthouse.
In fulfilling his statutory duty to prosecute Moore, Pryor said his own personal views were irrelevant to the controversy and did not require him to remove himself from the case.
"I support the public display of the Ten Commandments, but I have never supported disobedience of a court order. It's my duty to represent the Judicial Inquiry Commission, and I did my duty."
Moore's attorneys had argued for Pryor's recusal before the Court of the Judiciary, but "the court unanimously ruled against them," Pryor said.
However, in prosecuting Moore, Pryor managed to anger many cultural conservatives from Alabama and elsewhere who had previously supported President Bush's nomination of the conservative attorney general to a seat on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mark Iain Sutherland, president of the Positive Action Coalition, a grassroots activist group in St. Louis, Mo., said that while he once supported Pryor's nomination to the federal bench, he now has too many questions left unanswered.
"Does [Pryor] have any convictions? Is he going to be playing political games? Is he going to be furthering his agenda like he's been doing as attorney general?...You can't really know that anymore because he switches, depending on the political opportunity," Sutherland said of Pryor.
In defying the federal court order to remove the Ten Commandments display he had ordered erected in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building, Moore argued that he was supporting the religious foundation on which the United States was created.
On Thursday, Sutherland accused Pryor of buckling to the judicial opinion of Thompson when he should have sought to defend the language of the U.S. Constitution acknowledging God.
"When a judge says something that is in contradiction to...the United States Constitution, [Pryor] is duty-bound to stand against that order," Sutherland said. "Just because a judge says something, it doesn't have the power of law, it's judicial opinion. People nowadays are saying: 'Well if a judge says it, it is law.' It is not law. It is judicial opinion."
Pryor is no darling of the political left either. His nomination has been the subject of a filibuster by Senate Democrats, who accuse Pryor of being a conservative extremist.
When Pryor was asked Thursday how he expected his prosecution of Moore to affect his nomination to the federal bench, he insisted it had "nothing to do with my nomination."
"I'm honored to be a nominee of the president, and I will continue to be, as long as he wants me to be his nominee," Pryor told CNSNews.com.
But Sutherland said Pryor should have stood behind Moore, even at the expense of his judicial nomination.
"Just because Democrats or...anybody is giving you a hard time about the values that you hold doesn't mean you should shift them around and try and appease them. You should stand for what you stand for. Whether that means that you don't get confirmed, then so be it."
Pryor is term-limited as Alabama's attorney general. As for a political future beyond his current office, Pryor is "not running for anything," Suzanne Webb, a spokeswoman for Pryor, said.
See Earlier Story:
Roy Moore Removed From Chief Justice Post (Nov. 13, 2003)
E-mail a news tip to David Thibault.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.