National Catholic Register

Commentary

Catholic Courageous: Pryor Faces Schumer

BY Kathryn Jean Lopez

July 6-12, 2003 Issue | Posted 7/6/03 at 2:00 PM

 

Alabama Attorney General William Pryor can take comfort in the beatitude "blessed are the persecuted" these days.

And he'd better. He has found little else in the U.S. Senate.

His nomination to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals continues to be mired by Senate Democrats. His nomination's fate is uncertain, but, in the end, the man looks to be on his way to excellent eternal standing — if public witness under fire gets brownie points at the pearly gates. And, when it comes to the things of this world, if he loses his current fight, it will not be because he did not put up a fight and perform near flawlessly.

When Pryor sat at the hearing table in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 11, the Senate Democrats, who have heretofore faced principled but somewhat demure judicial nominees, had no idea what they were up against.

They came prepared, mind you. Their strategy: demonize the nominee on abortion, homosexuality and partisan politics. Make him look like an extremist, and make sure they know he is a papist.

Bill Pryor, a Catholic pro-life father and husband, is a public official with a public record that shows he's no fan of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in America. He has called Roe “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”

Senate Democrats had stalled plenty of pro-life nominations previously. They stopped Texas Supreme Court judge Priscilla Owen because she ruled in favor of an abortion parental-notification statute. They stopped Miguel Estrada, who was up for a seat on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and is pro-life, like most Hispanics — which means he's out.

Naturally, they weren't going to overlook Pryor's line about the “abomination.” Surely he would take it back, they must have thought.

Well, he didn't. Nor did he soften it. He told it like it is. “Do you believe that now?” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asked Pryor.

“I do,” Pryor replied. In shock, Schumer thanked Pryor for his “candor.”

It didn't end there, however. Pryor later told the committee:

“I believe that not only is [Roe] unsupported by the text and structure of the Constitution, but it has [also] led to a morally wrong result. It has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children.”

He has also said he “will never forget Jan. 22, 1973 [the day of the Roe decision], the day seven members of our highest court ripped up the Constitution” and that the Supreme Court had created “out of thin air a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.”

No one at this point was going to drop this line of questioning. One of the senators on his side asked Pryor to clarify the statement, “I believe that abortion is the taking of human life.” He answered, “I believe that abortion is morally wrong.”

That's probably the last thing anyone watching the hearing would have expected to hear from the nominee — from any nominee.

And it got more contentious — and ridiculous, if that was possible.

Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., trying to demonize Pryor as a hater of gay people, asked: “News accounts also report that you even went so far as to reschedule a family vacation at Disney World in order to avoid Gay Day. In light of this record, can you understand why a gay plaintiff or defendant would feel uncomfortable coming before you as a judge?”

Pryor answered, “As far as my family vacation is concerned, my wife and I had two daughters who at the time of that vacation were 6 and 4, and we made a value judgment. And that was our personal decision.”

The exchange continued:

Feingold: “Well, I certainly respect going to Disney World with two daughters. I've done the same thing. But are you saying that you actually made that decision on purpose to be away at the time of that?”

Pryor: “We made a value judgment and changed our plan and went another weekend.

Feingold: “Well, I — I appreciate your candor on that.”

As if to confirm what the hearing was all about, Schumer told the committee, “[Pryor's] beliefs are so deeply held that it's very difficult to believe those views won't influence how he follows the law. A person's views matter.”

He said to Pryor, “Your record screams passionate advocate but does-n't so much as whisper judge.”

The fact of the matter is that Pryor is a well-respected lawyer. He's proved himself as dutiful, willing to uphold the law even when he disagrees with it. As attorney general he told state district attorneys to take “the narrowest construction available” when dealing with the state's partial-birth-abortion law, following Supreme Court precedent.

So what is wrong with Pryor? Schumer told us. And it raises the question: Can a pro-life Catholic survive a Senate confirmation process? Would one ever survive a Supreme Court confirmation? Are we even fit for public office?

Pryor meanwhile waits to be granted the imprimatur of the Senate Judiciary Committee. When Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked the Alabama attorney general what his religion is, Catholics especially should have stood at attention.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor ofNational Review Online and an associate editor of National Review.