Saturday, February 21, 2004

President Bush bypassed a Democratic filibuster yesterday by installing Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — his second recess appointment in as many months.

Mr. Bush’s action will allow Mr. Pryor to sit on the appellate bench, without Senate approval, until next January when the term of the present congressional session expires.

“If Attorney General Pryor were given a vote on the floor of the Senate, he would be confirmed,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “But a minority of Democratic senators has been using unprecedented obstructionist tactics to prevent him and other qualified nominees from receiving up-or-down votes.”

Outraged Democrats, who have cited Mr. Pryor’s opposition to abortion when blocking a full Senate vote on him, yesterday accused Mr. Bush of circumventing the judicial-nomination process.

“The president has divided the American people and the Senate with his controversial judicial nominees and none is more controversial than Mister Pryor,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Pryor is among six Bush nominees who have been filibustered by an unwavering group of 45 Democrats. Mr. Bush last month used a recess appointment to seat Judge Charles W. Pickering of Mississippi on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. They had depicted Judge Pickering as insensitive to civil rights.

Of Mr. Bush’s nominees blocked thus far, none has generated as much scorn and venom from Democrats as Mr. Pryor, who was nominated 10 months ago.

“Judicial activists like Mister Pryor are committed to an ideological agenda that puts corporate interests over the public’s interests and that would roll back the hard-won rights of consumer, minorities, women and Americans with disabilities,” Mr. Leahy said in a statement.

But it was Mr. Pryor’s opposition to abortion that drew the most intense criticism at a hearing last year when he was asked about the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion.

“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,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children.”

Mr. Pryor also was accused of being insensitive to homosexuals because he rescheduled a family vacation to Disney World to avoid “Gay Day” at the theme park.

“In light of this record, can you understand why a gay plaintiff or defendant would feel uncomfortable coming before you as a judge?” asked Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.

Mr. Pryor responded: “My wife and I had two daughters who at the time of that vacation were 6 and 4. We made a value judgment and that was our personal decision.”

As evidence of Mr. Pryor’s adherence in the rule of law over personal beliefs, Republicans point to his role in the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama state courthouse. Despite his strong beliefs that the monument should remain, Mr. Pryor fulfilled an order by the state Supreme Court to remove the stone tablets.

Nevertheless, Mr. Pryor was barely approved by the committee on a straight party-line vote of 10-9 and has been denied a final vote by the full Senate ever since.

At the time, Republicans accused Democrats of opposing any devout Catholic such as Mr. Pryor based on their views against abortion.

Republicans yesterday heralded Mr. Bush’s move to place Mr. Pryor on the court that hears appeals of cases for Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

“This is a constitutional response to an unconstitutional filibuster,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee. “Bill Pryor is a good man who had the support of a bipartisan majority of the Senate and was refused an up-or-down vote. He will serve well in his new role on the federal bench.”

The Constitution allows presidential appointments during recess, which Congress was on this week for the Presidents Day holiday. At the completion of the congressional session, appointees must again be considered by the Senate. Many have been confirmed when renominated.

Republicans and Democrats alike saw the move by Mr. Bush as an effort to shore up support among his conservative Republican base, which is particularly outraged by the Democratic filibusters. Further, they said, that base is in need of some attention considering their disappointment with Mr. Bush over his growing budget deficit and lax new stance on illegal immigrants

“The president is on shaky ground with the hard right and is using this questionably legal and politically shabby technique to bolster himself,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “The only solace we have is that Mr. Pryor will be off the bench in ten months.”

Some Republicans wondered privately why Mr. Bush didn’t recess appoint one of the other blocked nominees such as Janice Rogers Brown, a member of the California Supreme Court. Justice Brown — who is black, was born into a poor Alabama sharecropping family and enjoys overwhelming support from California voters — is viewed by many as Mr. Bush’s most appealing blocked nominee.

“She makes a much better martyr,” noted one Democrat who is well aware that Justice Brown will likely become the primary example of Democratic obstruction against Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees.

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