Appeals court nominee William H. Pryor Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that abortion is “murder” and that the court case legalizing it is “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”
It was an unusually frank statement by a judicial nominee in a confirmation process that has become highly politicized, especially on the issue of abortion.
President Bush has nominated many pro-lifers to the federal bench, but the nominees usually avoid directly addressing the legality of abortion in Senate confirmation hearings.
Like other pro-life nominees facing fierce questioning from Democratic senators over the abortion issue, Mr. Pryor said his record shows that his personal views about abortion do not interfere with his ability to uphold laws as interpreted by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Pryor, Alabama’s attorney general nominated to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, appears to be headed for filibuster based on the tenor of questions yesterday by committee Democrats and even one Republican.
“Mr. Pryor has a tough road to hoe here,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and one of the leaders of the Democratic filibusters against two other Bush nominees. “He’ll get a chance to make his case, but … this is one of the most troubling records we’ve seen thus far.”
The questioning of Mr. Pryor’s drew such a large crowd that the hearing had to be moved to a larger room, where spectators filled all 230 seats and stood in back and along the walls. Outside, 11 special-interest groups dropped off reams of flyers and position statements for and against Mr. Pryor.
At one point, committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, warned an audience member who applauded Mr. Schumer’s suggestion that Mr. Pryor faced an uphill battle.
“We’ll have no disturbances in here,” Mr. Hatch told the audience member. “I’ll have you removed.”
Republicans released dozens of letters of support, several from Alabama Democrats who know Mr. Pryor personally.
“He is a person, in my opinion, who will uphold the law without fear or favor,” wrote Joe L. Reed, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference. “I believe all races and colors will get a fair shake when their cases come before him.”
Mr. Pryor was ridiculed by some for his support of gun rights, limitations on the federal government, and state laws banning homosexual acts.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, had heard that Mr. Pryor once rescheduled a family vacation to 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?” Mr. Feingold asked.
“My wife and I had two daughters who at the time of that vacation were 6 and 4,” Mr. Pryor explained. “We made a value judgment and that was our personal decision.”
Mr. Feingold persisted: “But are you saying that you actually made that decision on purpose to be away at the time of that?”
“We made a value judgment and changed our plan and went another weekend,” Mr. Pryor said.
The most contentious moments, however, came during questioning about abortion.
Sen. Arlen Specter, a pro-choice Pennsylvania Republican, interrogated Mr. Pryor about whether he thought Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, was rightly settled.
“Well, I believe that not only is the case unsupported by the text and structure of the Constitution, but it has led to a morally wrong result,” Mr. Pryor answered. “It has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children. That’s my personal belief.”