- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

Senate Democrats voted yesterday to block another of President Bush’s nominees to the federal judiciary, and Republicans and Catholic groups said Democrats have in effect imposed a religion test on the nominee, who is a Catholic.

The Senate voted 53-44, seven votes shy of the 60-vote threshold, not to end debate and allow an up-or-down vote on Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor, who has been nominated by Mr. Bush to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. All 51 Republicans supported moving forward, as did two Democrats — Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, called Mr. Pryor “the single most controversial nomination” to come before the Senate so far, and most Democrats said his statements opposing abortion, as well as cases he has handled on civil and defendants’ rights, states’ rights and the tobacco lawsuits put him too far outside the mainstream.

“Mr. Pryor is simply too ideological to serve as a federal court judge,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. “Mr. Pryor’s litigation positions, public statements and his writings leave little doubt that he is committed to using the law not simply to advance a ‘conservative’ agenda, but a narrow and extreme ideological agenda.”

But Republicans said Mr. Pryor is being smeared only for having professed his faith in Catholic teachings on abortion. Also, one Catholic group, the Ave Maria List, has run print ads equating Democrats’ opposition to saying “Catholics need not apply” to the federal judiciary.

“What appears to be going on in the Judiciary Committee by members of the other side of the aisle is not a separation of church and state, but a separation of anybody who believes in church and faith from any public role,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.

And Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, who is from Mr. Pryor’s home state, said in the one abortion case the nominee handled as attorney general Mr. Pryor ordered state prosecutors to follow the 2000 Supreme Court decision that invalidated most state partial-birth abortion statutes.

“When it came down to enforcing the law on partial-birth abortion, that he despises, he enforced the law, and he directed his prosecutors in the state to do likewise,” Mr. Sessions said.

Mr. Pryor’s nomination has now become a rallying cry among activist Catholics.

The archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput, criticized Senate Democrats in the Denver archdiocesan newspaper this week, saying that “the bias against ‘papism’ is alive and well in America.” The Catholic League and the Knights of Columbus also weighed in during the last week with letters defending Mr. Pryor’s faith in Catholic principles, and criticizing his opponents for raising the issue.

“It comes perilously close to suggesting that Catholics who faithfully adhere to their church’s teaching on abortion, and perhaps other public moral issues, are unfit to serve their country in the federal judiciary,” wrote Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.

But Father Robert F. Drinan, a former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts who is now a law professor at Georgetown University, said the charges of anti-Catholicism “don’t make sense.”

“I’m opposed to this man,” Father Drinan said. “His record is such that I can very clearly see the Senate wouldn’t give advice and consent.”

Father Drinan said the issue has become a battleground for some conservative Catholics to try to fight over the definition of “bad Catholics” and “good Catholics.”

But some Republicans now say the issue is broader than one Catholic nominee.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, went through a list of the handful of nominees either being blocked or expected to be blocked by the Democrats, and noted that all of them are either Catholic or devout members of a Christian faith.

But Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, one of several Catholic pro-choice Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, listed three Catholics active in pro-life and Catholic causes who have been confirmed for circuit and district court positions.

“For colleagues to stand before us and say we discriminate against Catholics, the record doesn’t show it,” he said.

Democrats said they never raised Mr. Pryor’s faith, and said it was Mr. Hatch who actually asked the question of the nominee.

For now, Mr. Pryor becomes the third of Mr. Bush’s nominees subjected to a filibuster. There have been 11 failed cloture motions, which would end debate and force an up-or-down vote, on those three nominations.

In those votes, all 51 Republicans have supported the president’s nominee. Democrats, though, have been nearly as united, with just four voting to move forward Miguel A. Estrada and just two — Mr. Nelson and Mr. Miller — voting to move forward on Mr. Pryor and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen.

Mr. Estrada, a former Justice Department employee nominated to serve on the Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has been the subject of seven cloture motions. Justice Owen, who has been nominated to the 5th Circuit, has been the subject of three failed cloture motions.

But Mr. Nelson said though he has supported moving forward Mr. Bush’s nominees for a vote on the Senate floor, he was disillusioned by Republicans’ charges of anti-Catholicism. He also said he is worried that the administration is sending up nominations with increasingly outspoken views on contentious issues.

“I’d like to see people with less-extreme rhetoric about the process put on the bench,” Mr. Nelson said. “What I want is a cooling off here, and give us candidates that are aimed at the mainstream.”

Meanwhile, the White House yesterday urged an up-or-down vote on all of the judges being held up, but did not suggest a way to resolve the gridlock.

“These are highly qualified nominees with strong bipartisan support, and they deserve a vote, up or down, whatever that vote may be,” said Scott McClellan, White House press secretary.

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