Judiciary committee backs Pryor nomination
Senate moves closer to filibuster showdown
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate
Judiciary Committee voted 10 to 8 Thursday to send the
nomination of former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor,
Jr. to the Senate floor.
The vote adds Pryor's name to the list of four other
judicial nominations passed out of the committee -- all on the
same party-line vote -- and brings the Senate ever closer to a
showdown over the Democrats' use of filibusters to block
President Bush's nominations.
Several Republican senators -- including Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist -- have at the least intimated that
Democrats are applying a "religious" test to the president's
nominees, rejecting them for their personal views.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, gave a spirited defense of
Pryor, who succeeded him as Alabama's attorney general, saying
"more than anybody that I know. he was committed to the ideals
Sessions noted that Pryor opposed Alabama Supreme Court
Chief Justice Roy Moore when Moore put a large stone monument
to the Ten Commandments in a prominent position in the state
"About the only people (in Alabama) who have opposed
Judge Pryor are conservative Gov. Fob James and former Chief
Justice Roy Moore," he said. "Even though he is pro-life
in his views, he understands where the authority of law is and
is committed to follow it."
Democrats on the committee, however, said religious views
had nothing to do with their objection to Pryor, citing
instead his record and comments, including his opposition to
the Violence Against Women Act and his ridiculing of the U.S.
Supreme Court as "nine octogenarian lawyers who happen to sit
on the Supreme Court" when they granted a temporary stay of
execution in an Alabama capital murder case.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said the complaints that
Democrats are employing a religious test come from "outlier
groups who somehow have undue influence on the Republicans in
"They are petulant," he said. "They want their way. They
think they can read the heavens, and anyone who disagrees with
them lacks in faith or doesn't have the right to be heard.
"This is what are our patriotic founding fathers were not
Republicans, however, countered that Pryor's decisions and
comments were taken out of context and that he was being
rejected for doing his job. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said
Pryor was being "demonized" by the Democrats, while Sen. Jon
Kyl, R-Arizona, objected to hearing him characterized as an
"At a minimum, we should tone down the rhetoric," he said.
Before the vote, committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter,
R-Pennsylvania, urged an end to party-line voting.
"It continues to be my hope that both leaders would
liberate their caucuses from party-line voting," Specter said.
"We would not have filibusters if Democrats voted their
"Similarly, if Republicans were freed from the party-line
straitjacket, there would not be support" for Republican
threats to invoke a 'nuclear option'" and eliminate the
Senate's 67-vote requirement to end a filibuster.
During debate before the vote, Democrats noted that 208 of
President Bush's 218 nominees for judicial positions have been
confirmed by the Senate and objected to Republican
characterization of them as obstructionists.
Schumer said passing Pryor out of the committee was
"nothing more than a stage-setting for an attempt to undo what
the Senate's been about for all these years," setting up
Frist's threat to impose the "nuclear option" to eliminate the
use of the filibuster to block the nominations.
"We stand on the precipice of a constitutional crisis,"
Schumer said. "Bill Pryor is the last of the four most
Those other "controversial" nominees are former Interior
Department lawyer William Myers, for the 9th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in San Francisco; Texas judge Priscilla Owen,
for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and California
judge Janice Rogers Brown, for the U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The committee also sent to the full Senate the nomination
of former Senate lawyer Thomas Griffith for the D.C. circuit.
Last month, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid offered a
compromise to Frist: allow a vote on four nominees -- Richard
Griffin, David McKeague, Susan Neilson and Griffith, plus one
of the four controversial nominees -- and the remaining five
would be dropped.
Frist rejected the offer, saying all the nominees should
have an "up-or-down" vote.
The judiciary committee originally intended to consider
Brent Kavanaugh's nomination to the District of Columbia
Circuit Court of Appeals and Terrence Boyle II's nomination to
the 4th Circuit Court.