Bad Strategy
Why Pryor handcuffs the Dems.


The dirty little secret about how the Democrats (and their big-media echo chambers) choose which Republican judicial nominees to abuse is that their targets almost invariably fall into one of three categories: minorities, southerners, and people of strong faith.

As a southerner of strong faith, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor has been particularly in the Left’s crosshairs.

But if the liberal activists pull the filibuster trigger in this case, their attempt at character assassination is likely to backfire on several southern Democratic senators who will be forced to explain why they joined a patently anti-southern attack. It could also hurt Rust Belt Democrats by angering millions of Catholic voters.

The truth is that Bill Pryor has built a record so defensible, and is such an effective advocate for his positions — with such manifest sincerity and integrity — that few courses of action for them would be dumber than that of making him a martyr. Far better for their purposes to yell a lot of misleading accusations at Pryor, bloody him up a little, and to secure as many “safe” votes as they can against him — but then to let him pass on a close vote rather than to keep him in the public eye by filibustering his nomination.

As the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee discovered at a hearing last week, trying to demonize Bill Pryor is almost impossible. His guileless, natural demeanor bespeaks the Happy Days decency of a Richie Cunningham — but a Richie who, when challenged, will courageously stick to his principles even under the most withering assault. Not to mention a Richie with an encyclopedic legal-case recall and a simple eloquence that lends obvious substance to his explanations of legal arcana.

Typecasting him as a southern reactionary, Senate Democrats tried to trip Pryor up on the Voting Rights Act. Couldn’t be done. As a former clerk for legendary civil rights Judge John Minor Wisdom, as a nominee who enjoys the strong support of Alabama’s lone black Democratic congressman and the two most prominent black Democratic state legislators, Pryor is unassailable on racial issues. It also helps that Thurbert Baker, the black Democratic attorney general of Georgia, agrees with Pryor’s position on the Voting Rights Act clause in question and heartily endorses Pryor’s nomination to the 11th Circuit.

The Left has attacked Pryor’s stances in favor of Madisonian constitutional “federalism,” deliberately equating them with “states’ rights” positions used by Southern politicians to defend racist practices.

Hardly. Indeed, Pryor at his hearing used the word “evil” to describe the racist approaches. And in an article for the Summer 2002 Alabama Law Review, Pryor quite specifically attacked the “States Rights perspective of John C. Calhoun and, more recently, southern populist politicians such as Governor George C. Wallace.” He continued, approvingly, that “the States’ Rights view of federalism has been discredited,” and that it “was fatally flawed by its misunderstanding of the supremacy clause.” Finally, he added that “the constitutional thought of John Calhoun and George Wallace cannot provide a theoretical framework for a workable federalism for the twenty-first century.”

The other anti-southern stereotype the Left has tried to hang on Pryor concerns the notion of the South as a home of Neanderthals prone to brutal punishments, with a criminal justice system still conducted along the lines of the inhumane prison in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.” In that vein, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York twice accused Pryor of outrageously “defending his state’s practice of handcuffing prisoners to hitching posts in the hot Alabama sun for seven hours without even giving them a drop of water to drink.”

Not exactly. In fact, not even remotely.

Pryor was defending Regulation 429 of the Alabama Department of Corrections, which provides that when an inmate “refuse[d] to work” or was “otherwise disruptive to the work squad,” prison officers were authorized to “handcuff” the inmate to a “permanently affixed restraining bar.”

Pryor argued in a brief that “the most significant procedural requirement of Regulation 429 was that the inmate could be left on the bar only so long as he continued to refuse to work. At any time during the day,’ Regulation 429 stated, ‘the inmate can tell an officer that he is ready to go to work.’ [emphasis added by Hillyer] App. 103. ‘He will be allowed to join his assigned squad for that day and begin work.’ App. 103. The inmate thus held the keys to his release in his own pocket.”

Nobody complains when inmates are forced to do road work in the “hot Alabama sun” — but suddenly, according to Schumer, it is unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment” to keep somebody standing still in that same sun with the option, at his own discretion, of being rid of his restraints and returning to work.

Not only that, but prisoners so disciplined have the right, specified in the same regulation, to a nurse’s attention, to fresh water, to hourly bathroom breaks, to a sack lunch, and to any medication that has been prescribed to him.

Pryor noted that the inmate in the case at hand “has not alleged that respondents Pelzer, McClaran, or Gates ever departed from these procedures at any time during this case.”

The facts show the policy is less like Cool Hand Luke than like Let’s Make a Deal.

Finally, there’s the bizarre notion, reported as fact in a recent lead sentence by Neil Lewis in the New York Times, that Pryor “has gained prominence …. as an advocate for a greater Christian influence in government.”

Ask the first 1,000 Alabamians you randomly come across what comes to mind when they think of Bill Pryor, and the likelihood is that not a single one will volunteer that Pryor somehow wants to Christianize American government.

But Pryor is indeed a man of faith — Catholic faith — and he makes no bones about it. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin seemed positively shocked that Pryor once said that “the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are rooted in a Christian perspective of the nature of government and the nature of man. The challenge of the next millennium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective.”

Naturally, they took this to mean that non-Christians aren’t welcome in Pryor’s supposedly theocratic America. And naturally, they willfully took Pryor out of context. Maureen Dowd-like, they ignored the first part of Pryor’s sentence. What he actually said was: “The American experiment is not a theocracy and does not establish an official religion [emphasis added by Hillyer], but the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are rooted in a Christian perspective….”

Even better, the speech in question was one he gave as the graduation speaker for his alma mater, McGill-Toolen High School, run by the Archdiocese of Mobile. The whole point of his speech was to explain to the graduating seniors of this Catholic school why their faith tradition requires them to exercise their citizenship responsibly, especially in a pluralistic society.

To quote from Pryor’s prepared text:

Christians are realists, not utopians. We know that the peace of Heaven, the City of God, awaits and cannot be constructed by man. In medieval Christendom, St. Thomas Aquinas developed and refined the Augustinian understanding of tranquillitas ordinis to explain that it is found in a rightly ordered political community — a community that is founded on the principle of the consent of the governed.

In this century, but before the members of the Class of 1997 were born, John Courtney Murray, a Jesuit priest and the preeminent American Catholic theologian, explained to this nation why the promise of America is rooted in the Catholic understanding of tranquillitas ordinis. Murray explained: The first truth to which the American Proposition makes appeal is stated in that landmark of Western political theory, the Declaration of Independence. …

Pryor advocated what he termed a “vital democratic pluralism” straight out of James Madison’s ideals, in which all faiths and denominations were welcomed and encouraged to flourish. Only in that light of refusing to establish a religion did Pryor argue against “governmentally enforced secularism.”

Pryor’s position, in short, would offer protections to faithful Jews such as Joe Lieberman or, presumably, Dianne Feinstein.

Meanwhile, Sens. Feinstein and Durbin might have a hard time explaining to the nation’s 64 million Catholics how it disqualifies a man from a judgeship if he quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas.

That’s why southern Catholic senators such as Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and John Breaux (neither one an ideologue) should be doubly reluctant to filibuster Pryor. The anti-southern bigotry and anti-Christian bigotry that animates American hard-Leftists may play well at Democratic conventions — but when exposed, it surely will prove anathema to a huge swath of the voting populace.

Bill Pryor is a man of substance and fairness, and he will be neither cowed nor defeated by smears and vicious stereotypes.

Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer and columnist for the Mobile Register.


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