Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Presidential appeals court nominee and Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor has been filibustered by Democrats who accuse him of being unable to separate his strong religious beliefs from his work as a jurist.

But his role in the struggle over displaying the Ten Commandments inside an Alabama courthouse is a sterling example of Mr. Pryor’s ability to do just that, his supporters say. Mr. Pryor is fulfilling a federal judge’s ruling that mandates the removal of the 2-ton granite monument that started a firestorm in the state capital.

Though he supports the religious display, Mr. Pryor said he is committed to “the rule of law” and removing the tablets.

“Pryor’s deportment throughout the Ten Commandments debate has shown an exemplary ability to distinguish the law from his personal opinions and a willingness to support the rule of law,” said Sean Rushton, executive director of the conservative judicial interest group Committee for Justice. “Frankly, [Democrats] should apologize to him for their previous public attacks.”

The nomination of Mr. Pryor to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals by President Bush was advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last month on a party-line vote. His nomination has since been stalled by a Democratic filibuster on the floor of the Senate.

Democrats on the committee railed against Mr. Pryor for his strong views against abortion and have publicly doubted his ability to uphold laws such as abortion rights. Today, Mr. Pryor finds himself in a peculiarly similar predicament.

On many occasions, Mr. Pryor has said he agrees with Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore that displaying the Ten Commandments in a public building does not violate the Constitution, which bars Congress from creating any laws “respecting the establishment of religion.”

But a federal judge has ordered that the Ten Commandments be removed and as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, Mr. Pryor said he must uphold that ruling.

“The rule of law means that no person, including the chief justice of Alabama, is above the law,” Mr. Pryor said last week.

Opponents of Mr. Pryor’s nomination were unmoved.

Ralph Neas, president of the liberal group People for the American Way, acknowledged that Mr. Pryor “has decided not to assist in defying the federal court order,” but called him a “right-wing zealot” with an “appalling public record.”

“Enforcing a court order is a fundamental responsibility of a state attorney general,” Mr. Neas said, “Not something that merits special commendation.”

Manuel Miranda, who handles judicial nominations for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said that if Democrats shift their support behind Mr. Pryor’s nomination, “then it just proves they don’t really care.”

“These issues are just incidental to them,” Mr. Miranda added. “All they really care about is abortion.”

In the imbroglio over the Ten Commandments, Mr. Pryor also has begun taking flak from some of his supporters on the right who are angry that he is enforcing the federal ruling.

Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, called on Mr. Pryor to resign his position as attorney general.

Chief Justice Moore also has targeted Mr. Pryor, issuing a statement yesterday saying: “I am profoundly disappointed with our governor, our attorney general and the federal judge who says that we cannot acknowledge God.”

Other conservatives have accused Mr. Pryor of posturing in the Ten Commandments case to prove that he can separate his personal views from his duties as an officer of the court.

Mr. Miranda dismissed such accusations.

“He’s run into this situation before and his position has always been the same,” Mr. Miranda said. “He has always supported the enforcement of law over his personal opinions.”

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