Pryor Confirmation Puts Americans’ Rights at Risk

Statement of People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas

Just a day after giving Janice Rogers Brown a lifetime seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Senate confirmed William Pryor, another activist right-wing ideologue, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. For the first time, three Republican senators voted against a Bush appellate court nominee.

Senate approval of even President Bush’s most extreme appeals court nominees confirms the importance of the filibuster to our constitutional system of checks and balances, especially with multiple Supreme Court vacancies expected in the coming years.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called Judge Pryor a “right-wing zealot” for good reason. Judge Pryor’s radical approach to the law includes the belief that the Constitution should not apply to some of the most critical issues pertaining to individual rights and freedoms — including reproductive choice, gay rights, and school prayer — and that these matters should be decided by the states, based on majority vote, regardless of whether constitutional rights are violated. Pryor’s ideology would effectively create a balkanized America in which individual citizens may have fewer constitutional rights depending on where they live.

Pryor is also a leading architect of the recent “states’ rights” or “federalism” movement to limit the authority of Congress to enact laws protecting individual and other rights. He personally has been involved in key Supreme Court cases that, by narrow 5-4 majorities, have restricted the ability of Congress to protect Americans’ rights against discrimination and injury based on disability, race, and age. Worse, he has urged the Court to go even further than it has in the direction of restricting congressional authority.

Judge Pryor’s nomination had been previously blocked by a filibuster; today’s vote was the result of a recent agreement by a bipartisan group of senators to avert the detonation of the “nuclear option,” which would have eliminated the filibuster altogether as a check on the president’s power to appoint federal judges. Pryor’s appointment is evidence of the very high costs of this compromise, but also underlines the crucial importance of preserving the filibuster as protection against the confirmation of someone as extreme as William Pryor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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