A divided Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-9 yesterday
to approve the nomination of Alabama Attorney General William
Pryor (R) to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, setting
up the possibility of a Democrat-led filibuster on the Senate
President Bush nominated the 41-year-old Pryor in April to
11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from
Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Since then, he has been heavily
criticized by environmentalists who claim he wants to roll
back federal environmental protections, including provisions
of the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act.
The major wedge between Republicans and Democrats on the judiciary
committee, however, involved questions about Pryor's fundraising
role for the Republican Attorneys General Association, which
he helped found. The committee postponed a vote on Pryor last
week following allegations that Pryor asked for political
contributions from industry groups under investigation by
his office. But after a week of investigation, Judiciary Committee
Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) came prepared to press for a
Democrats on the committee yesterday expressed anger with
Hatch for forcing the issue and said they would consider blocking
Pryor's confirmation before the full Senate. "By rushing
it, you're helping our side in a sense," said Sen. Charles
Viewed as a strict constructionist on constitutional matters,
Pryor has been outspoken about his views on issues ranging
from the separation of church and state to abortion rights
to environmental policy, including federal authority over
wetlands and enforcement of clean air standards for states
that fail to force emissions reductions from industrial facilities
and other sources.
"Pryor has been one of the nation's most enthusiastic
proponents of anti-environmental judicial activism that threatens
core environmental statutes," said Doug Kendall, director
of the nonprofit Community Rights Counsel.
But under questioning before the Judiciary Committee last
month, Pryor insisted his conservative personal views would
not impede his ability to rule with impartiality on matters
of law. Pryor is the one of a handful of Bush nominees to
the federal bench to be opposed by environmentalists, including
Carolyn Kuhl, Miguel Estrada, Priscilla Owen and Jeffrey Sutton.
In a July 16 (http://www.earthjustice.org/policy/judicial/pdf/Pryor_Opposition_
7-16-03.pdf) letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee,
leaders of 15 environmental groups -- including Clean Water
Action, Community Rights Counsel, Defenders of Wildlife, the
Natural Resources Defense Council and others -- took issue
with Pryor's environmental record. Among other things, the
groups cited an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court
in the landmark 2001 Solid Waste Authority of Northern
Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (http://www.wetlands.com/fed/99-1178slip.htm)
in which Pryor argued that the federal government lacks authority
under the Constitution's Commerce Clause to prevent destruction
of wetlands that host migratory birds. He was the only state
attorney to file such an argument.
In testimonytestimony (http://www.ago.state.al.us/speeches.cfm?Item=Single&
Case=82) last year before the Senate Environment and Public
Works Committee and the Judiciary Committee, Pryor argued
against federal enforcement of the Clean Air Act. "EPA
invaded the province of the states and threw their respective
air pollution control programs into upheaval by reversing
-- with the blunt tool of enforcement instead of a collaborative
rulemaking process -- interpretations that are central to
the day-to-day activities of state regulators," Pryor
In Gibbs v. Babbitt (http://www.law.emory.edu/4circuit/june2000/991218.p.
html), Pryor asked the Supreme Court to review and reverse
a decision backing the federal government's right under the
Endangered Species Act to prohibit the killing of red wolves
on private land.
Pryor was championed by both of Alabama's senators, Jeff
Sessions (R), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee,
and Richard Shelby (R). Sessions was Pryor's predecessor as
Alabama attorney general and was once himself rejected for
an appointment to the federal bench. Shelby introduced the
nominee to the committee, saying Pryor "has established
a reputation as a principled and effective legal advocate
for the state of Alabama and has distinguished himself as
a leader on many important state issues."
If Pryor's nomination is filibustered on the Senate floor,
he will be the third Bush judicial nominee to be stymied by
congressional partisanship. Republicans have tried six times
since early March to end a Democratic filibuster of Estrada
to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
And they have failed at two attempts to end a similar filibuster
of Owen to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kendall said moderate Republicans wishing to serve their constituents
should stand with Democrats and vote against Pryor on the
floor. "We strongly believe that Mr. Pryor should and
will be defeated by vote by the full Senate," he said.
"We are confident that after full consideration of Mr.
Pryor's record, moderate Senate Republicans will decide to
vote against Mr. Pryor."
Kendall said his organization supports a Democratic filibuster
as "the least-best way" of keeping Pryor off the