Skip to comments.Judicial nominee a conservative true believer [Bill Pryor]
Posted on 05/25/2003 5:32:51 AM PDT by madprof98
MONTGOMERY -- In the midst of a high-profile court fight over the role of church and state, the Christian Coalition brought thousands of Alabamians together one spring day in 1997 at the state Capitol. Christian rock blared and the crowd cheered as conservative leaders rose to support a state judge's prerogative to post the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.
Bill Pryor, the state's newly appointed attorney general, had the perfect audience. "God has chosen this time and this place so that we can save our country and save our courts for our children," he said, holding his 3-year-old daughter as he spoke.
Pryor -- then 34 and an ambitious, outspoken rising star in a conservative revolution sweeping the U.S. legal system -- didn't stop with a defense of the Ten Commandments. He proceeded to label a prominent civil rights group un-American: the "Anti-American Civil Liberties Union." And he attacked Roe v. Wade, the case that legalized abortion. "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," Pryor told the appreciative crowd.
Pryor's strident advocacy resonated well beyond Montgomery. Last month, President Bush nominated him to become one of 12 judges on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He would replace Emmett Ripley Cox, one of the court's more conservative jurists.
His confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled. When it comes, senators won't have to struggle to discern the Alabamian's views. In speeches, congressional testimony, court filings and newspaper Op-Ed columns, Pryor, 41, has vigorously championed the causes of the religious and political right, at times even disparaging sitting Supreme Court justices.
A staunch defender of state legal prerogatives, he has attacked federal efforts to protect some wetlands and to require power plant cleanups.
In court filings with the U.S. Supreme Court, Pryor said a legal right to engage in same-sex relations would "logically extend to activities like prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia."
Pryor scorned the ultimately successful state lawsuits against Big Tobacco in the '90s. Similarly, he now opposes litigation against the gun, lead paint and managed care industries, saying they intrude on areas that should be the province of legislators and "leave only the personal injury lawyers better off."
He also has urged repeal of important parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guarantees minority access to the polls.
To liberal interest groups, Pryor is a right-wing ideologue who must be stopped. To the religious right and its secular allies, he's ideally suited to sit on a court one step below the Supreme Court.
"With Pryor's record, there is something to offend virtually every constituency in the country," said Nan Aron, president of the Washington-based Alliance for Justice, a coalition of liberal groups.
"Bill is a brilliant lawyer who has done a fantastic job in Alabama," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a public interest law firm founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson. "Bill knows there's a difference between his role as an attorney general as an advocate and as a judge who has to apply the law."
Reagan molded views
William Holcombe Pryor Jr. was born in Mobile to parents who were JFK Democrats and outspoken opponents of the segregationist policies of the South. But his parents' shocked reaction to Roe v. Wade, when Pryor was 10, helped inspire his eventual distrust of liberal activist judges.
As an honors student at a Catholic high school, he visited Virginia's Colonial and Revolutionary War sites, feeding his interest in history and the Constitution. Driving to school each morning with his father, Pryor listened raptly to President Ronald Reagan's taped addresses on the radio.
At Tulane University Law School, Pryor joined a nascent movement called the Federalist Society, founding a school chapter. A "conservative and libertarian intellectual network," the group fights court action, particularly what it considers left-leaning decisions such as Roe v. Wade on issues that it feels should be decided by legislatures. It also opposes acts of Congress, such as certain environmental laws, that it feels intrudes on state prerogatives.
A goal-oriented, confident lawyer, Pryor has often boasted that he usually gets what he wants. He told that to a college friend after meeting Kristan Wilson at a Mardis Gras party. Pryor declared that he planned to marry Wilson -- even though they'd yet to go out on their first date. Five years later in New Orleans, she accepted his marriage proposal. They have two daughters.
Pryor joined a Birmingham law firm and witnessed firsthand an Alabama legal landscape known to civil defense lawyers as "Tort Hell" for the huge jury verdicts being handed down at the time. He watched in amazement as his firm lost a $50 million verdict over a $1,000 dispute about a car loan. Another client, a car dealer, lost a $4 million verdict for failing to disclose that a BMW he had sold needed a paint job to cover a scratch.
Pryor left the law firm in 1995, accepting an invitation by Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions to join his office. After Sessions won election to the U.S. Senate the next year, Pryor moved up as attorney general. He ran for the post in 1998, guided by Karl Rove, now President Bush's political strategist. While other Republicans, including Gov. Fob James, went down in defeat, Pryor narrowly won. Last year he was re-elected by a wide margin.
Two early philosophical influences -- Catholicism and Reagan -- have proved long-lasting. In Pryor's office at the Statehouse, a crucifix hangs on a wall above a shelf filled with books on the former president. A Reagan bust has a prominent place on the other side of the room. Pryor attends Mass at least once a week at St. Peter Catholic Church in downtown Montgomery, where he serves as a lector.
One of the most important issues of Pryor's tenure has been the series of lawsuits against tobacco companies, which eventually brought billions to the states as compensation for medical care they provided sick smokers. Pryor, the former corporate lawyer and advocate of "tort reform," had little stomach for the suits. "This form of litigation is madness," he said in 1996. "It is a threat to human liberty, and it needs to stop."
He chaired a task force that found smokers, as a group, do not impose the cost of their habit on the government -- because they die sooner than nonsmokers. The "premature deaths of smokers actually save the government the cost of Social Security, pension and nursing home payments," the task force said in its report.
Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, a Democrat who led the states' tobacco litigation, complained in a newspaper interview that Pryor "did a better job of defending the tobacco companies than their own defense attorneys."
Pryor ultimately did sign on to the 1998 national tobacco settlement. Alabama's share was an estimated $3.8 billion, about half what the state would have received had it joined the litigation at the outset, legal experts say.
He acknowledged after the settlement that his dead smoker argument had generated "howls of derision," but he never repudiated it.
"None of the opposition," he said, "ever seemed to care . . . whether the economic analysis was correct."
Activist in own right
Though he decries liberal judicial activism, Pryor has been an activist conservative attorney general, looking beyond his state's borders for a chance to advance the cause.
He was the only attorney general in the country to file a friend-of-the-court brief before the U.S. Supreme Court opposing the Violence Against Women Act, which allowed rape victims to sue their attackers in federal court.
His side prevailed. In 2000, even though three dozen state attorneys general filed briefs supporting the law, the high court struck it down, saying Congress' measure intruded on state legal turf.
He filed another brief asking the high court to curtail the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to protect wetlands not directly connected to navigable or interstate waters. In a 2001 ruling that alarmed environmentalists, the court agreed the federal government had overstepped its authority.
In a Virginia death penalty case, he supported the right of states to execute the mentally retarded. This time, in a 2002 decision, he lost.
Pryor has heaped praise on the Rehnquist court for its guardianship of federalism, although he has noted that many of its decisions were decided by a 5-4 vote. "Perhaps that means that our real last hope for federalism is the election of Gov. George W. Bush as president of the United States, who has said his favorite justices are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas," Pryor told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2000.
"Although the ACLU would argue that it is unconstitutional for me, as a public official, to do this in a government building, let alone at a football game," he added sarcastically, "I will end my prayer for the next administration: Please God, no more Souters."
"Souter" is Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who was appointed by Bush's father and often dissents on the high court's federalism rulings.
Wins and losses
In addition to signing on to politically charged cases from other states, Pryor has brought several issues before the Supreme Court himself.
In 2001, for example, he won a ruling that Alabamian Patricia Garrett could not seek money damages under the Americans With Disabilities Act against her employer for demoting her because she had breast cancer.
The same year, he persuaded the court to limit a type of lawsuit commonly brought under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It ruled that a Mexican immigrant could not claim Alabama's English-only driver's tests discriminated against minorities.
Pryor has lost two notable Supreme Court cases.
In May 2002, the high court rejected his argument, which he presented personally, that an indigent Alabama man charged with assault was not entitled to a publicly funded lawyer. In its ruling, the court expanded the right to counsel for poor people facing relatively minor charges.
A month later, the court rejected Pryor's defense of Alabama prison guards who allegedly handcuffed an inmate to a hitching post for hours. Pryor had argued the guards were immune from a lawsuit in the incident.
Rights leaders object
Pryor's nomination already has generated strong opposition from prominent civil rights leaders over his comments six years ago on the Voting Rights Act.
He urged "repeal or amendment" of Section 5, a provision of the law that allows either the Justice Department or the U.S. District Court in Washington to veto any proposed changes in voting districts in some states if they are found to have a discriminatory purpose or effect.
Pryor called Section 5 "an affront to federalism and an expensive burden that has far outlived its usefulness."
Last month, 16 civil rights leaders signed a statement expressing alarm over Pryor's comments. They include the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dorothy Cotton and James Bevel, all of whom worked closely with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "His positions stand for a revival of states' rights," said the Rev. C.T. Vivian, an Atlanta pastor who signed the statement. "Somebody like that has no right to be a federal judge."
Such criticism clearly touches a nerve with Pryor. He recently issued a statement of his own defending his record on race relations. "This issue, like almost no other, strikes at the core of who I am and what I hope to accomplish in my life as a minister of justice," he said.
Pryor called the Voting Rights Act "one of the greatest and most necessary laws in American history." He acknowledged supporting "minor changes" to the law, but only "to end procedural and political abuses that do not affect minority voters and were never intended by Congress."
Pryor said he had defended several redistricting plans approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature when they were challenged by white Republican voters.
Pryor's supporters also note that in 1998 he championed a constitutional amendment, ultimately approved by the voters, that invalidated Alabama's ban on interracial marriages. He endorsed the amendment, even when then-Gov. Don Siegelman stood silent on the issue.
And last Tuesday, Pryor personally argued before the Alabama Court of Appeals that a murder conviction should be upheld against former Klansman Thomas Blanton Jr. for the infamous 1963 church bombing in Birmingham.
If Washington opinions on Pryor split down party and ideological lines, at home things are somewhat less predictable.
He has support from some black leaders, including the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference. Even some lawyers who disagree with the attorney general praise his intellect and integrity.
Jere Beasley, a prominent Birmingham plaintiffs' lawyer who had criticized Pryor's decisions in the tobacco litigation, supports Pryor's nomination.
"Bill and I have not been on the same political page," he said. "But I think he would be able to put aside his personal feelings and follow the law. That's all I ask."
But not everyone from Alabama is so sure of that. Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery has his doubts about whether Pryor, the outspoken politician, can serve impartially as a judge.
Cohen said that Pryor "was nominated because of the positions he has taken in race cases, church-state cases, abortion cases, his federalism."
"Bill's supporters are banking on the fact he will carry those predilections to the bench."
On May 15,2003, my old friend, Larry Bolin, died in custody of the Atlanta Prison Camp of what is suspected to be a blood clot in his heart. He was incarcerated in 2002 for what was to have been a four year term for participating in an alleged "mail fraud" (he was a hired employee of the guy they REALLY wanted and ultimately got).
The REAL reason for his prosecution (aka vindictive persecution) was his refusal to tell federally constructed LIES about the other guy at trial. Lots of folks in jail here for THAT!
Before his term began, Larry spent many months in ICU after major abdominal surgery and was at death's door several times. When the feds pressed his private doctors, they finally released him to the tender mercies of the US Bureau of Prisons where he was on more than one occasion denied medical care for chest pains.
Early in his term, many of us had to write the USBoP demanding that he be supplied his numerous prescribed medications. So far as we could determine, they complied but made sure he knew that if he caused any further "problems" for them (like wishing to remain ALIVE!), he'd be transferred to a camp a few thousand miles away from his home -- or the BIG HOUSE next door.
Larry was a real thorn in their sides for a number of years and fought them all the way to the jailhouse door --and beyond. In my letter, I remarked that it seemed that they were attempting to turn his four year term into a death sentence. Larry was far too ill to have been imprisoned. As tough as this little guy was, it now appears that they succeeded.
If anyone reading this has any interest in knowing Larry's story -- under the heading "There but for the Grace of God go I" -- let me know via private email and I'll send it to you. Entitled "Is Your IRS Agent a Thief," it's a fascinating read.
Larry Bolin's fight has now ended and he is finally free.
And one thing is certain: He won't be seeing those responsible for his death for the next eternity or so. They're going elsewhere!
Rest in peace, my friend. Rest in peace. You will be missed wherever freedom is cherished.
Larry wrote the following piece after he began to delve into the workings of the federal courts as they related to his case. What he found should but probably wont concern every American who cares about this country and freedom. Pieces such as this one are also very likely why Larry was punished by the system. One of his favorite quotes was Voltaires caveat that It is dangerous to be right when the state is wrong. Today in the land of the free, it can be FATAL.
Oh yes, one more thing: Larrys mortal remains were absent at his funeral home visitation on May 22. After jerking his wife around about releasing his body, they failed to do so in time. Though now dead, he still is, after all, a federal prisoner.
MTV Rules - the Judiciary
Larry Bolin (1950-2003)
"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws"
--Tacitus, Roman General
Most of us have experienced having our summer and fall afternoons interrupted by the loud continuous thumping and bumping of what is now labeled rap music. And whose senses (especially those who have young and impressionable youths helping themselves at the feeding table) have not been assaulted by the auditory and visual images on a certain cable channel, MTV.
The subject matter in these videos ranges from raping and brutalizing women to the promotion of killing cops. While there is no disagreement that there have been some occasions where members of law enforcement should have received punishment for their actions, ambushes are not appropriate.
Lets pretend that you become entangled in this severely dysfunctional legal system. You may be a defendant or plaintiff. It matters not which: Your chance for genuine justice is highly unlikely. You are more apt to receive true justice in Las Vegas than you are in the present legal system. In addition, a trip to Las Vegas will cost a whole lot less if you lose.
Ah, what do rap music and MTV videos that promote raping and brutalizing women and cop killings have to do with the judiciary? Before proceeding, some background.
It was in the early seventies, while Richard M. (I am not a crook) Nixon was president, that the federal appellate courts suddenly became overwhelmed with an increased caseload. This overload was largely due to the insane War on Drugs - err - the War on the Bill of Rights. In order to relieve this problem of an overloaded court system, a three pronged plan was devised.
One part of this strategy was to temporarily employ - for one to two years - 1st and 2nd year law students. In the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, some of the judges do not even require these law students to have taken - much less pass - a bar exam before they are hired.
A longer-lasting solution was to hire a permanent staff of attorneys to screen, sift and categorize cases into important ones that would receive a hearing before a three-judge panel. The remainder mainly social security, pro se, black lung and sentencing guideline cases were to receive, according to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals internal operating procedures -- a bench memorandum prepared by the Staff Attorneys for judicial review. According to one survey, memoranda of this type were adopted by the court unchanged and without a second thought ninety-five percent of the time. In such instances, not a single piece of evidence or a brief from either side was ever seen by a judge. An opinion was issued and the rights of all Americans were adversely affected with NO real judicial accountability. This practice was described by one Judge Robert Thompson of the California Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District as a no judge opinion.
The solution eventually found for judges who had qualms about approving one of these many judicial opinions written and issued by a bureaucrat or college kid was described in a 1999 article in the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process. In it, Judge Richard Arnold, a judge on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, said it is tempting for those judges who want to rule differently from prior cases, but who cant come up with a justification, to resolve the dilemma by deciding the case in an unpublished opinion and sweeping the difficulties under the rug. (Tony Mauro, Judge Ignites Storm Over Unpublished Opinions, Fulton County Daily Report - Tuesday, September 5, 2000, Volume 111, No. 173, pages 7, 8.) Difficulties such as having your right to keep and bear arms abrogated or your property seized and confiscated by the IRS. Perhaps the denial of your spouses claim to your social security payments after you are dead and gone.
Fully 78 percent of the case dispositions by federal appeals courts last year were by unpublished opinions, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts - an amazing number given that the practice only began in 1964 as a cost-cutting and working-saving measure. (Id., page 8.)
Critics say that unpublished opinions are often the product of barely reviewed assessments by law clerks or circuit staff attorneys. Law clerks say that dissenting judges will sometimes agree to withdraw their dissents if the majority marks the opinion unpublished. (Id., p. 8.)
So what does all this have to do with MTV and the judiciary? Hang with me here. The relationship will soon become obvious.
The third solution to the problem of overcrowded court dockets is the legal systems use of a practice common in medicine. Both use college students to perform different functions within their respective domains. Medicine calls their college students interns. It is a term used to describe a medical student getting his or her first shot at cutting on something more exciting than a pickled frog. In teaching hospitals, medical students even operate on patients - under the full supervision of an experienced, licensed doctor.
In some perverse desire to be different, the legal system calls ITS college students externs. That is not, however, the only area of difference.
These students, known as externs, either work part-time for their judges while carrying a reduced load of law school classes, or are given academic leave from law school for one term to work full-time. In either case, the student is unpaid but receives academic credit from his or her law school, and thus continues normal progress toward a law degree. Because no public resources are involved, the use of externs has generally been left to the initiative of individual judges and law schools. The law schools themselves have played an active role in the growth of extern programs. (Oakley and Thompson, Law Clerks in Judges Eyes: Tradition and Innovation in the Use of Legal Staff by American Judges, 67 California Law Review 1286, 1293 (1979. This Thompson is the same Associate Justice Robert Thompson, who coined the phrase no judge opinion).
How comforting to know that if your home has been seized by the tax man, that some wet behind the ears child will be deciding where your next living quarters will be or who will have custody of your child. Some college kid devoid of most life experiences and who has not faced monthly bills or the extreme tax burden most Americans face. The major decision for most of these externs is which Rap CD am I going to purchase or where the next beer party will be. While we delude ourselves that these college kids are merely looking up citations or shelving the judges law books, the reality is that they are changing lives. These children, who have not yet completed their studies in law school or in some cases have not taken -- much less passed -- a bar exam are playing God. How does this differ from practicing law without a license?
A quote from a publication from one of these institutions of higher learning should bring the matter into focus: What are these able, intelligent, mostly young people doing? Surely not merely running citations in Shepherds and shelving the judges law books. They are, in many situations, para judges. In some instances, it is to be feared , they are indeed invisible judges, for there are appellate judges whose literary style appears to change annually. (Emphasis added). (Rubin, Views From the Lower Court, 23 UCLA L. Rev. 448, 456 (1976).)
Imagine, if you will, waiting for a decision from the court as it is being prepared by some dumbed - down twenty-year old hidden by the doors of the judges sanctum sanctorum. And imagine that he is listening through his headphones to the rhythmic thump, thump thump of the latest Rap artist while writing that decision which the judge may never see! Imagine further that the decision he or she is writing is a binding opinion affirming a lower court ruling allowing the seizure of your property! No accountability, and apparently little or no supervision. All done to cut costs and lighten work loads in the court system - with the added bonus that these colleges students, these children - may receive academic credit.
The next time you are dragged into a court, take comfort in those images. Perhaps you can formulate a few questions about that at your next lawyer consultation.
Bar members know of these practices - and do nothing to correct them.
Until the rest of us complain, why should they?
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