Americans United and other public interest groups joined forces last month to urge the Senate to reject the nomination of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to a seat on the federal appeals court.
Pryor was recently chosen for a slot on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President George W. Bush. Americans United and the other groups argue that Pryor is unfit for the position because of his extreme agenda and close ties to the Religious Right.
The organizations held a joint press conference June 10 in Washington. Groups taking part alongside Americans United included the NAACP, the Alliance for Justice, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, People For the American Way and the Sierra Club.
Several other organizations also issued statements in opposition to Pryor. Among them were Americans for Democratic Action, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Council of Jewish Women and the National Coalition for Disability Rights.
"Pryor's political career has literally been a crusade to 'Christianize' America through government action," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, at the press conference. "This is a dangerous and divisive agenda, and he must not be given a seat on our federal courts to promote it."
Americans United also issued a report, "Pryor Offenses: Federal Court Nominee Bill Pryor's Record Of Extremism," which examined Pryor's controversial record in detail. According to the report, Pryor:
Has bitterly criticized Supreme Court rulings upholding "the so-called wall of separation between church and state." At an Oct. 19, 1999, debate in Dallas sponsored by the local affiliate of the Federalist Society, he insisted that the First Amendment does not mandate "the strict separation of church and state."
Has argued that Christianity is an integral part of the American constitutional order. In a 1997 speech at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile, Ala., he said, "The American experiment is not a theocracy and does not establish an official religion, but the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are rooted in a Christian perspective of the nature of government and the nature of man. The challenge of the next millennium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective."
Has used his office to inflame public opinion against court rulings upholding church-state separation. In April of 1997, he appeared at a "Save the Commandments" rally in Montgomery in support of Roy Moore, a state judge under fire for displaying the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.
Pryor framed the legal fight as a religious crusade, telling the crowd, "God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time, this place for all Christians Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox to save our country and save our courts."
Has argued that states should be free to ignore federal court rulings they dislike. In the March 13, 1997, issue of The Alabama Baptist, Pryor defended then-Gov. Fob James' right to follow his own interpretation of the Constitution regardless of what the courts say.
Said Pryor, "The governor feels strongly that there are matters of serious constitutional significance where the executive branch has the duty to uphold the Constitution as the executive branch interprets." Pryor said there are techniques the executive branch can use so that it "does not have to implement rulings with which it disagrees."
On June 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee began questioning Pryor. During the hearing, Pryor defended his views, including his belief that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, is an "abomination." He also conceded that negative remarks he made about Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a supporter of church-state separation, were inappropriate.
Religious Right organizations are rallying to Pryor's defense. The Christian Coalition, Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America all issued pro-Pryor statements the day the hearings began. The Christian Coalition praised Pryor as "highly qualified" and claimed he enjoyed "wide bipartisan support."
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel with TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, issued a frantic e-mail alert in support of Pryor the day of his confirmation hearing.
"This time it is personal," Sekulow wrote. "I worked with Bill, and he is a good friend of mine. He appointed me Deputy Attorney General of Alabama to handle a specific religious liberties case for the state. It was a privilege to work with him as we successfully defended religious liberties all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States."
Continued Sekulow, "I know Bill ... I've seen him fight for your rights with integrity and excellence. We must go to bat for him because WE NEED HIM ON THE BENCH! This is the type of Judge who will fight to protect your rights and freedoms and who will uphold the intent of the Constitution. You can trust him with your future ... with the future of your children and grandchildren."
Many senators are said to be concerned about Pryor's extreme agenda. In addition, the American Bar Association has declined to give him its highest rating for judicial nominees. A majority on an ABA committee that investigated Pryor gave him a "qualified" rating, but most judicial nominees receive a "well qualified" rating. A minority of panel members found him "not qualified."
Pryor's nomination is seen by many as another payback to the Religious Right. In Washington, observers say Bush nominated Pryor after receiving advice from Bush top aide Karl Rove. Rove helped Pryor win election as Alabama attorney general in 1998, and the two remain close.