- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2003

President Bush’s judicial nomination of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has stirred debate between Democrats and pro-Catholic groups over whether Mr. Pryor is being discriminated against by Democrats because of his Catholic convictions, particularly his pro-life position. Mr. Pryor’s decisions on abortion, homosexual rights, states’ rights and civil rights are not in line with most Democrats. The Democrats are not against some of these ideas because they are held by Catholics. They are against Catholics because they hold certain ideas. Indeed, Democrats are against the ideas whether they are held by Jews, protestants or atheists, too. But the effect is that any judicial nominee who believes in the teachings of his faith, and honestly says so when asked, will be disqualified for office by the Democrats.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, claims that Democrats are imposing “a religious litmus test” on judicial nominees. The Utah Republican has noted that nominees who are “either Catholic or devout members of a Christian faith” have been blocked or are expected to be blocked. In fact, the Senate voted 53-44 on Thursday, seven votes shy of the 60-vote threshold, not to end debate and allow an up-or-down vote on Mr. Pryor.

Hence, the effect — intentional or not — of the Democrats’ religious litmus test means the automatic disqualification of any judicial nominee who believes in the teachings of his church. The same litmus test misleads them to conclude that a nominee will be unable to separate his personal convictions from his judicial duties.

However, Mr. Pryor’s record shows that this is not the case. Although Mr. Pryor is admittedly pro-life, in one ruling, he ordered state prosecutors to follow the 2000 Supreme Court decision that invalidated most state partial-birth abortion laws. Hence, Mr. Pryor enforced the state’s partial-birth law even though he was personally opposed to the practice.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, denies the claim that Democrats are using religion as a determining factor in the confirmation of judges, calling the charge “an affront to the Senate.” However, two other Bush nominees — Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen — were blocked by Senate Democrats because of their pro-life positions.

Article VI of the Constitution clearly stipulates that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the United States.” Democrats would be wise to uphold the Constitution and vote fairly on judicial nominees. The future of our judicial system depends on it.

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