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Democrats Grill Appeals Nominee Pryor

June 11, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor stuck by his strong comments against abortion and gays Wednesday, winning Democrats’ respect for his candor but criticism for views they suggested would cloud his rulings as a federal appeals judge.

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to approve Pryor’s appointment to Atlanta’s 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but some Democrats have hinted they might try to filibuster the nomination on the floor _ a technique they’re using against some of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

``In reviewing the record of the nominee before us here today, I’m disappointed to say he looks more like the nine nominees I personally have voted against than the 119 I have voted for,″ said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. ``His views are an unfortunate stitching together of the worst parts of the most troubling judges we’ve seen thus far.″

But even Pryor’s most outspoken critics acknowledged during his confirmation hearing that he was forthcoming with his answers, seldom backing away from past controversial statements.

When Schumer asked Pryor whether he stands by an earlier comment calling the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion the ``worst abomination in the history of constitutional law,″ Pryor said he still believes that.

Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked the nominee whether he would vigorously follow Roe v. Wade as current law, even though he opposes it.

``You can take it to the bank, Mr. Chairman,″ Pryor said.

Pryor also was grilled on his position on gay rights. In February, he filed a brief with the Supreme Court in a Texas sodomy case comparing homosexual acts to ``prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia.″

He explained that Justice Byron White used similar language in a 1986 Supreme Court case in which the court ruled 5-4 that Georgia’s criminal penalties against homosexual sodomy were constitutional.

But Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., suggested Pryor’s position against gays is deeper than one brief. He asked about a story that Pryor and his family rescheduled a trip to Disney World to avoid ``Gay Day,″ a weekend festival not sponsored by Disney but with events mainly at the Magic Kingdom theme park. Pryor acknowledged the story was true.

``My wife and I have two daughters who at the time were 6 and 4 years old,″ Pryor said. ``We made a value judgment.″

Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Pryor reiterated his views that at least part of the Voting Rights Act, which required many Southern states like Alabama to get their redistricting plans approved by a court, ``has outlived its usefulness.″

Pryor also acknowledged criticizing Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who was appointed to the high court by the first President Bush but mainly votes with the court’s more liberal justices. Pryor explained that when he once ended a speech with a prayer for ``no more Souters,″ he did so because Souter’s rulings often clash with Alabama law.

``I am an active, engaged attorney general,″ Pryor said. ``I criticize rulings of the Supreme Court. I praise rulings. I share those views and my values with the people of Alabama who elected me. I think that’s part of our role as lawyers and advocates in the legal system.″

Meanwhile, Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, both Republicans, gave Pryor a glowing endorsement during introductions.

``The caricature the attack groups have created of Bill Pryor is just not true,″ said Sessions, formerly Pryor’s boss when he served as the state’s attorney general. ``He is a breath of fresh air.″

Also Wednesday, the Senate confirmed on a 96-0 vote a less controversial nominee, Richard Wesley, to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Wesley is a former New York state assemblyman and a friend of Gov. George Pataki, who nominated him to the New York state Court of Appeals in 1996.

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On the Net:

11th Circuit: http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/

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