William Pryor: Unfit to Judge

Pryor’s Record On Privacy and Reproductive Freedom

Pryor is a staunch opponent of a woman’s right to reproductive choice and has repeatedly and harshly condemned the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. For example, in a 1997 speech before the Federalist Society, Pryor stated that “[i]n the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court preserved the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history: Roe v. Wade.” Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, “Federalism and the Court: Do Not Uncork the Champagne Yet,” Remarks Before the National Federalist Society (Oct. 16, 1997). Pryor has said of the day Roe was decided: “I will never forget Jan. 22, 1973, the day seven members of our highest court ripped the Constitution and ripped out the life of millions of unborn children.” Kelly Greene, “Bill Pryor Hopes to Ride Court Crusade to the Top,” Wall Street Journal (May. 21, 1997).

In July 2000, Pryor criticized the Supreme Court for issuing “two awful rulings that preserved the worst examples of judicial activism: Miranda v. Arizona and Roe v. Wade.” Bill Pryor, “The Supreme Court as Guardian of Federalism,” Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation Speech (July 11, 2000). According to Pryor, Roe was “a political decision, with no basis in the plain language of the Constitution.” Bill Pryor, “Improving the Image of the Legal Profession by Restoring the Rule of Law,” Address before the Montgomery County Bar Ass’n (May 3, 2000).43

Responding in 2002 to a survey of state attorneys general by NARAL Pro-Choice America, Pryor stated, “[a]bortion is murder, and Roe v. Wade is an abominable decision.”44 NARAL has reported that, based on Pryor’s response to its survey of state attorneys general, “Pryor opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest, and would only support a narrow exception for instances in which a woman’s life is endangered.”45

Pryor has not just spoken about his opposition to reproductive freedom, he has also acted on it. For example, in 1999, Pryor endorsed proposed state legislation “[a]uthored by abortion opponents” that would have required the courts in Alabama to appoint a lawyer representing the state whenever a female under age 18 sought to have an abortion without her parents’ consent.46 Alabama law requires minors to have the written consent of a parent in order to obtain an abortion, but, consistent with constitutional requirements, authorizes a judge to grant an exception in specified circumstances, including when the female is mature and informed enough to make the decision on her own. Ala. Code §§26-21-1 to 8. The measure that Pryor endorsed would have turned the bypass process into an adversarial proceeding by requiring that an attorney representing the state be involved in all instances when a minor seeks a judicial bypass of the parental consent requirement.47 According to the press, “Pryor said an attorney representing the government should be involved to protect the state’s interest in preserving life.”48 Pryor apparently intended for such attorneys to pose an obstacle to a minor’s exercise of her right to reproductive freedom: “Pryor said he envisioned attorneys with networks like Alabama Lawyers for Life, of which he used to be a member, agreeing to represent the state for free and ‘potentially’ taking an adversarial stand against abortions.”49 The Birmingham Post-Herald criticized the bill and Pryor’s support for turning the bypass process into an adversarial proceeding: “The state does not have a legitimate role in that determination. The legislation recommended by Pryor is a bad idea deserving a quick burial.”50 The bill “died in committee.”51

In addition, Pryor defended an Alabama statute prohibiting so-called "partial birth" abortions even though the law was plainly unconstitutional because it lacked an exception for the preservation of the health of the pregnant woman, as required by Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 164-65 (1973) and reaffirmed by Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 879 (1992). A federal court in Alabama declared the law to be unconstitutional, following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 915 (2000), striking down a similar Nebraska law. See Summit Medical Associates, P.C. v. Siegelman, 130 F. Supp.2d 1307 (M.D. Ala. 2001).52

Some of Pryor’s supporters have asserted that, despite Pryor’s unquestionable opposition to women’s reproductive freedom, he would uphold the law in this regard, pointing to a letter that he issued to district attorneys the day the Alabama ban on “partial birth” abortions took effect in which he directed that the law was to be enforced only post-viability, though no such limit was contained in the law. >See Summit Medical Associates, P.C. v. Siegelman, 130 F. Supp.2d at 1313, n.6. However, Pryor issued this letter after the lawsuit challenging the law had been filed and under the threat that an injunction would be sought; in other words, as his own representatives confirmed at the time, Pryor was attempting to save the statute.53 Moreover, as noted above, Pryor ignored the fact that the statute lacked the constitutionally required exception to preserve the pregnant woman’s health.

Most important, however, this conduct by Pryor does not resolve the serious concerns that, as a lifetime federal judge, Pyror would be influenced by his personal ideology when he is in a position to interpret what the Constitution requires and what the law is. Most cases are not factual or legal clones of prior precedent. In fact, judging often requires subtle and nuanced interpretations of precedent, statutes, and the Constitution. For example, if confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit, Pryor might well hear a case involving a law that attempts to chip away incrementally at the right to reproductive freedom by placing particular burdens on the exercise of that right, a case in which Roe v. Wade provides guidance but not the final answer. In such a case, no one can seriously doubt that Pryor’s view of Roe as “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history” would influence his ruling.54

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