President-Elect Donald Trump last Saturday interviewed Mobile’s own William Pryor, a judge on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in consideration for the open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Oddly, Pryor is under fire not just from the Left but from one province of the political Right. The criticisms don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Herein, a two-part column examining the issues.
First, Against a Priori Judgments. (Follow the link.)
Both sides are acting as if a person’s policy preferences are coterminous with his approach to exercising duties in the legal system. That, of course, is a mistake liberals often make, because it fits the “progressive” belief that everything, especially everything personal, is political. But conservatives ought to know better….
… [later in the column] The right-wingers’ putative case against Pryor — one strongly rejected by the vast majority of conservative legal eminences — has two main thrusts. First, they say that three court decisions this decade show that Pryor will serve as “a strong ally of the homosexual lobby.” Second, they still resent the key role Pryor played in the 2003 removal from office, on ethics charges, of Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
The first allegation is either paranoia or slander. The second is evidence of a sincere but unfortunate misapprehension. Both accusations stem from a misunderstanding of the proper roles of officials in our court system….
…. [later in the column] It is instructive that at the same time Pryor’s right-wing critics are accusing him of being too pro-gay, left-wing websites like “Heavy” are in full-throated attack on him for supposedly being “in favor of criminalizing gay sex,” for “supporting a law preventing LGBT parents from adopting,” and for “support[ing] an opinion forbidding anti-transgender discrimination.” He also came under fire for deciding not to take his young daughters to Disney World when their family vacation coincided with the amusement park’s official “Gay Day.”
So which is it? Is Pryor an anti-gay bigot or a pro-gay despoiler of all traditional morality?
Of course he’s neither….
The second column: For Supreme Court, No Moore Grudges, Please. [Follow the link.]
I suspect, though, that the greater opposition to Pryor comes not due to his decisions in any small set of cases but because of the role Pryor played in the 2003 ouster from office of religious-right hero Roy Moore, “the Ten Commandments judge,” from Moore’s post as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court….
…. [Later in the column]
Pryor then was in a no-win situation. Since Moore was removed from office, I’ve had conversations, too numerous to count, about that case with top conservative legal thinkers both nationally and in Alabama. Most agree that Moore, in his understandable eagerness to vindicate his avowal that all valid law stems from The Almighty, clearly violated state legal ethics rules in several respects. And Pryor, as the state’s top law-enforcement official, was duty-bound to prosecute the case that removed Moore from office.
Pryor had nothing personal to gain from doing so and much to lose: His judicial nomination, then subject to an endless filibuster, seemed utterly dead no matter what he did, while his home-state electability for re-election or for any other office was terribly wounded because he was seen (unjustly) as “persecuting” the uber-popular Moore.
(Note: The possibility of a “recess appointment” for Pryor was a long way from surfacing then, and the whole notion of the Senate “nuclear option” threat to abolish the filibuster of judicial nominees, and the resulting “Gang of Seven” agreement to allow Pryor to be confirmed, was two full years away from even being considered.)
But Pryor followed his oath of office…. Pryor is a man who takes formal, professional ethics rules very seriously and reads them very strictly. Even if those codes ensnared a crusading conservative chief justice and Pryor thus acted against the justice, that doesn’t make Pryor’s constitutional conservatism suspect….
For a good sense of Pryor in person, watch this. (And yes, that is me asking the question, off camera, at the 53:21 mark.)