Judge William Pryor is one of the top three contenders in President Trump’s short list for Supreme Court Justice. Judge Pryor’s background and some of his judicial writings reveal his pro-life leanings and defense of the Constitution. Indeed, attempts to block his 2003 nomination as an 11th Circuit Justice are indications of his conservative nature and the strong opposition of his nomination from NARAL Pro-Choice America(i) provide additional evidence to his conservatism and stance on the right to life(ii). There attacks on Judge Pryor as being “unfit” to be a SCOTUS justice from those who oppose his strong support of criminal law(iii) over the offender and on his stance supporting principles of federalism supporting the ideal that social/lifestyle cases should be heard at the state level(iv). And yet, there is support for him as well(v), based on his rulings, which focus on the substance of the case in relation to the Constitution, rather than rulings based on political ideology. To have those who lean, politically, left endorse a SCOTUS nominee based on his application of, and adherence to, the Constitution is significant.
Judge Pryor has conservative support(vi), due to his adherence to the Constitution. However, some conservative groups are not so inclined to his nomination, claiming he doesn’t support religious liberty based on the Keeton-Anderson v. Wiley case referenced below. These detractors include the Judicial Action Group(vii) and the Personhood Alliance(viii). (Author’s Note: The Judicial Action Group cites Herb Titus, a well-known ‘biblical birther’ attorney who has claimed the Bible says Obama is ineligible to be President(ix) and that Trump was ‘ordained by God(x).’)
A brief overview of Hon. Pryor’s background and cases of note follows.
William Holcombe Pryor, Jr. was born on April 26, 1962 in Mobile, Alabama to devout Roman Catholic parents. In 1984, Pryor earned a BA from Northeast Louisiana University, now the University of Louisiana, Monroe. In 1987, he earned his J.D. from Tulane University Law School, where he served as editor of the Tulane Law Review. He is married with two adult daughters.
Professional and Political Background
Pryor clerked for Judge John Minor Wisdom of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal from 1988-1995. During that time (1989-1995) he was also an adjunct professor of maritime law at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. Pryor was Alabama’s Deputy Attorney General from 1995 -1997, following now Senator Jeff Sessions, with whom it is reported he still maintains strong ties(xi). Pryor was elected the Attorney General of Alabama in 1998 (the youngest state attorney general in the U.S.) and reelected in 2002. Pryor currently is a visiting professor of the University of Alabama School of Law and adjunct professor of maritime law at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.
In 2003, Pryor called for the removal of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who kept a monument of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building in disobedience to a federal court order. Pryor stated he agreed with the propriety of displaying the Ten Commandments, but that he was bound to follow the court order and uphold the rule of law. Pryor personally prosecuted Justice Moore, who was subsequently unanimously removed from office by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.
While serving as Alabama Attorney General, Pryor wrote a brief in defense of the Texas law that banned sodomy. It was later struck down in Lawrence v. Texas(xii).
Pryor has called Roe v. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law(xiii)”. He further was quoted as saying, “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(xiv).”
In 2003, President G.W. Bush nominated Pryor to the 11th Circuit. Senate Democrats opposed the nomination due to his writings on the Texas sodomy law and on Roe v. Wade. Pryor was eventually appointed in a congressional recess in 2004 and confirmed in 2005 by a Senate vote of 53-45(xv).
Legal Opinions of Note
Freedom of Religion – no uniform rulings in favor of religious liberty
- Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. v. Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (11th Cir. 2014)(xvi). A panel of the 11th Circuit unanimously enjoined the Secretary HHS from enforcing the contraception mandate against the Catholic network EWTN. Judge Pryor specially concurred, on the merits under the Religious Freedom Restoration act. NOTE: Promoted freedom of religion.
- Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley (11th Cir. 2011)(xvii). Plaintiff stated that while in a graduate counseling program, the student expressed the belief that homosexuality was a disorder and she intended to attempt to convert the homosexuals to heterosexuality. The school required to student to undertake a remediation plan, such as attending a Gay Pride event, to change her mind about homosexuality. The student refused and was expelled. Pryor stated that “a state university did not violate the speech or religious rights of a Christian student expelled from a graduate counseling program for refusing homosexual indoctrination.” NOTE: Based on the text of the decision, the records show that the Plaintiff was unable to support, through evidence, the infringement of freedom of religion.
- Pelphrey v. Cobb County (11th Cir. 2008)(xviii). Pryor wrote the majority (2:1) opinion that affirmed the district court ruling that sectarian prayers that open commission meetings did not violate the Establishment Clause if the prayer was not used to proselytize, promote, or disparage any particular faith or believe. NOTE: Promoted freedom of religion.
Hon. Pryor said the following on homosexuality in the psychiatric profession and how it relates to the First Amendment:
A few decades ago, the prevailing view of the psychiatric profession maintained that homosexuality was a treatable mental disorder. See American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2d ed. 1968). As this record makes plain, the prevailing view changed. This shift in psychiatric orthodoxy occurred largely because professionals who had been taught that homosexuality was a disease of the mind, but who rejected that view, argued successfully that the psychiatric diagnostic criteria should be amended. See Herb Kutchins & Stuart A. Kirk, Making Us Crazy 55–77 (1997) (describing professional efforts to remove homosexuality as a mental disorder from the DSM–II). This change in opinion would have taken much longer if public universities had been able to expel students who rejected the prevailing view and intended to argue that homosexuality was not a mental disease. As the First Amendment protected the professionals who successfully advocated against the then-prevailing view of the psychiatric profession, so too does it protect Keeton should she decide to advocate that those professionals got it wrong.”
- Glenn v. Brumby (11th Cir. 2011)(xix). Plaintiff wanted to be a woman and claimed discrimination when he dressed as a woman at his place of employment. His supervisor perceived it as disrupting the organization. Pryor “concurred with the court’s opinion to create a new transgender right to employment and bathroom nondiscrimination.” Pryor voted that the Equal Protection Clause required a reinstatement of a male employee fired for wanting to dress as a woman at his work. NOTE: This is the oft-quoted case use by Obama and the left to force the bathroom issue. Pryor offered “no analysis of the text of law or constitutional provisions and failed to cite one case of binding precedent from either the U.S. Supreme Court or the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Eleventh Circuit. Specifically, Pryor concluded that the right should be created even though not one of the 16 Supreme Court cases cited addressed “transgenders.” Nor was there any precedent in the 11th Circuit(xx).”
- Lawrence v. Texas(xxi). Houston police responded to a reported weapons disturbance at a private residence and found two men engaged in “a private, consensual sexual act…were arrested and convicted of deviate sexual intercourse in violation of a Texas statute forbidding two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct(xxii).” Hon. Pryor filed an amicus curie (friend of the court) brief supporting the Texas law against sodomy. Lawrence v. Texas resulted in the law being overturned.
- Common Cause/Georgia v. Billups (11th Cir. 2009)(xxiii). Pryor rejected a challenge to Georgia’s voter ID statute based on the Crawford v. Marion County Election Board case. ()
- Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama (11 Cir. 2013). Pryor, one of three judges on the panel, wrote the opinion that the 2% deviation threshold for redistricting did not violate the Voting Rights Act or Constitution.
As illustrated above, Judge Pryor has an early history defending the original intent of the framers of our Constitution and of supporting the rule of law. Judge Pryor’s recent decisions are controversial, as they appear inconsistent based on the continued attacks on freedom of religion(xxiv). However, this controversy is only in appearance, as the details of the cases support Hon. Pryor’s rulings.
This author has noticed that an ever increasing number of legal cases seek to have the COTUS determine validity of lifestyle, rather than constitutionality on enumerated rights. Glenn v. Brumby and Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley appear to be just that, a desire to force lifestyle on individuals under the Constitution, from both sides of the aisle. While conservatives and progressives disagree as to what one’s lifestyle should be, the adherence to the Constitution is one area where a SCOTUS justice MUST be consistent. There should be NO legislating from the bench, as evidenced so disastrously by Justice Kennedy and Justice Roberts, among others. There are several truly staunch Constitutional defenders who are less controversial than Judge Pryor included in President Trump’s list of potential SCOTUS nominees. When one considers that the nomination will fill the now vacant seat, and extraordinarily large shoes, of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, it is obvious that we must have a candidate that strictly adheres to the Constitution, and the principles of federalism. We cannot afford to have a SCOTUS Justice who may further weaken our First Amendment rights.
(i): “William H. Pryor, Jr. Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Eleventh Circuit: NARAL Pro-Choice America. Retrieved from the Web January 19, 2017. www.prochoiceamerica.org/assets/files/courts-noms-pryor_facts.pdf
(iv): “Pryor’s ‘Majority Rules’ Philosophy on Key Constitutional Rights and Freedoms.” William Pryor: Unfit to Judge. People for the American Way. June 2003. Retrieved from the Web January 19, 2017. http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/william-pryor-unfit-to-judge
(v): “Against A Priori Judgements Against William Pryor.” Quin Hillyer. The American Spectator. January 13, 2017. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. https://spectator.org/against-a-priori-judgments-against-william-prior/
(vi): “The Corner: GOP Consensus on Trump SCOTUS Pick: Sykes or Pryor.” Tim Alberta. National Review. November 18, 2016. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/442330/conservative-consensus-trump-scotus-pick-sykes-or-pryor
(vii): “Trump Warned of Joker in Pack of Supreme Court Options.” Bob Unruh. World Net Daily. January 14, 2017. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://www.wnd.com/2017/01/trump-warned-of-joker-in-pack-of-supreme-court-options/
(viii): “Supreme Court Frontrunner Judge William Pryor Jr. is No Scalia.” Gualberto Garcia Jones, Personhood Alliance. Christian News Wire. January 2016. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://www.christiannewswire.com/news/8270978969.html
(ix): “Bibilical Birthers? Titus Claims Bible Says Obama Ineligible for Presidency.” Miranda Blue. Right Wing Watch. January 30, 2012. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/biblical-birthers-titus-claims-bible-says-obama-ineligible-for-presidency/
(x): “Is Trump America’s Jephthah?” Herbert W. Titus. Judicial Action Group. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://judicialactiongroup.org/data/Is%20Trump%20Americas%20Jephthah%20-%2010-24-16.pdf
(xi): “Donald Trump meets with William Pryor, judge on top Supreme Court shortlist.” Associated Press. January 17, 2017. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jan/17/william-pryor-judge-supreme-court-shortlist-meets-/
(xii): “Potential Nominee Profile: William Pryor (Expanded).” Kevin Russell and Charles Davis. SCOTUSblog. January 10, 2017. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://www.scotusblog.com/2017/01/potential-nominee-profile-william-pryor/
(xiii): “Possible Trump Supreme Court Nominee William Pryor: Roe is the ‘Worst Abomination in the History of Law’.” Steven Ertelt. Lifenews.com. January 17, 2017. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://www.lifenews.com/2017/01/17/possible-trump-supreme-court-nominee-william-pryor-roe-is-the-worst-abomination-in-the-history-of-law/
(xv): “William H. Pryor Jr: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.” http://www.newsweek.com/profile-william-pryor-trumps-possible-scotus-nominee-530480
(xvi): Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. v. Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014, 11th Cir.) Retrieved from the Web January 19, 2017. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-11th-circuit/1726596.html
(xvii): Keeton-Anderson v. Wiley. Retrieved from the Web January 19, 2017. https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/keeton-v-anderson-wiley-decision
(xviii): Pelphrey v. Cobb County. (2008, 11th Cir.) Retrieved from the Web January 19, 2017. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-11th-circuit/1143995.html
(xix): Glenn v. Brumby. (2011, 11th Cir.) Retrieved from the Web January 19, 2017. http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca11/10-14833/201014833-2011-12-06.html
(xx): “Pryor Defenders Rally Around Judge Who Adopted Pro-Trans Ruling.” Bob Unruh. World Net Daily. January 16, 2017. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://www.wnd.com/2017/01/pryor-defenders-rally-around-judge-who-adopted-pro-trans-ruling/
(xxi): Lawrence v. Texas. (2011, 11th Cir.) Retrieved from the Web January 19, 2017. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-102.ZS.html
(xxiii): Common Cause/Georga v. Billups. (2001, 11th Cir.) Retrieved from the Web January 19, 2017. https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12174496308777056971&q=Common+Cause/Georgia+v.+Billups&hl=en&as_sdt=4,121
(xxiv): “Trump Warned of Joker in Pack of Supreme Court Options.” Bob Unruh. World Net Daily. January 14, 2017. Retrieved from the Web January 17, 2017. http://www.wnd.com/2017/01/trump-warned-of-joker-in-pack-of-supreme-court-options/