Politics & Policy

The Disney Smear

A goofy tactic used against a Bush judicial nominee.

Senate Democrats are bent on keeping as many of President Bush’s conservative nominees to federal courts off their intended benches as they can get away with, and are using whatever they can to demonize each one of them. Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi is a racist, according to the script. Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen is an anti-choice extremist. Miguel Estrada is not Hispanic enough. Their latest target is Alabama attorney general William Pryor, who is nominated for a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was no-holds-barred at Pryor’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last Thursday. Senate Democrats questioned him on his religion and past remarks on abortion. New York Democratic senator Charles Schumer proclaimed: “[Pryor’s] beliefs are so deeply held that it’s very difficult to believe those views won’t influence how he follows the law. A person’s views matter.”

Also at the hearing, Senator Russell Feingold (D., Wis.) made an issue out of the fact that Pryor and his wife changed their Walt Disney World vacation plans when they learned their visit was coinciding with the annual Gay Day there (the first Saturday in June).

Here’s how it went:

SEN. FEINGOLD: In a recent brief to the Supreme Court, you equated private, consensual sexual activity between homosexuals to prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, incest and pedophilia. In addition, your office defended a statute that denied funding to a gay-lesbian-bisexual alliance, a student organization. The 11th Circuit unanimously declared the statute unconstitutional. Furthermore, as deputy attorney general, you joined an amicus brief in Romer v. Evans arguing that local governments in Colorado were prohibited from enacting laws to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. The Supreme Court later rejected your view, but you called the decision undemocratic.

News accounts also report that you even went so far as to reschedule a family vacation at Disney World in order to avoid Gay Day. In light of this record, can you understand why a gay plaintiff or defendant would feel uncomfortable coming before you as a judge? And I’d like to give you this opportunity to explain why these concerns may or may not be justified.

ATTY GEN. PRYOR: I think my record as attorney general shows that I will uphold and enforce the law. In the Lawrence case, the first that you mentioned, I was upholding and urging the Supreme Court to reaffirm its decision of 1986 in Bowers versus Hardwick, which is the law of the land. And the argument to which you referred, the slippery slope argument, was taken from Justice White’s majority opinion for the Supreme Court of the United States.

In the second instance that you mentioned, the 11th Circuit case involving university facilities and funds for homosexual groups in Alabama, that argument was presented by then attorney general Jeff Sessions, not by me. And, in fact, after the decision came down, by the time the decision came down I was attorney general. But I did not file any papers to quarrel with the decision because, in fact, I agreed with it. When we worked together in the attorney general’s office, I declined to participate in that case for General Sessions because I had agreed with the District Court ruling, and I agreed then with the 11th Circuit ruling.

In the case of Romer versus Evans, General Sessions again was the attorney general at the time. I was his deputy attorney general, but he was the one who made the final decision. I have criticized the Romer decision.

As far as my family vacation is concerned, my wife and I had two daughters who at the time of that vacation were six and four, and we made a value judgment. And that was our personal decision. But my record as attorney general is that I will uphold and enforce the law, particularly, as I mentioned in my first example, in the Lawrence case, the brief that we filed defending Alabama law, which prohibits sodomy between unmarried persons, follows the Supreme Court’s precedent.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, I certainly respect going to Disney World with two daughters. I’ve done the same thing. But are you saying that you actually made that decision on purpose to be away at the time of that —

ATTY GEN. PRYOR: We made a value judgment and changed our plan and went another weekend.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, I — I appreciate your candor on that.

Mr. Chairman — Mr. Pryor, you’ve criticized those —

SEN. HATCH: Senator, your time is up.

Throughout the hearing on Thursday, Pryor was unapologetic before the committee for being who he is: a pro-life, legally conservative, Catholic public servant (surely none of these disqualifies one for seating on a federal bench); he handled the Disney question no differently. Despite his honesty, however, the Democrats’ work had already been done: Simply by raising the question, they had demonized him.

But that any of his critics would use his family’s Disney vacation planning against him is, well, goofy. A family choosing not to go to Disney World during “Gay Day” says nothing about their positions on or feelings about gay marriage, homosexuality, or gay people in general. It would probably not be a stretch to guess that if there were a “Live-in Boyfriend and Girlfriend’s Day,” the emphasis on visitors being publicly identified by their sexual orientation (at least for that day), Pryor and his wife would probably skip that, too.

Whatever your position on gay marriage or homosexuality, a private decision to not take your children to Disney World during “Gay Day,” would be considered by many parents to be a perfectly sensible decision — and that is certainly not proof that those parents are haters. (Click here, here, here or here for some visuals from both on Disney grounds and at associated events.) It does not follow that you are an anti-gay bigot if you decide Gay Day (which has included an event for gay and lesbian youth at the Magic Kingdom and a Queer as Folk reception) is not the most appropriate time to travel to Disney World with your four- and six-year-old daughters.

What the Pryor hearing was really about was stonewalling, yet again. It’s our way, or empty benches, is the message the Democrats repeatedly send the White House. And to law-upholding, conservative, pro-life, religious nominees: Unless you have the stomach to fight back, or apologize, in the face of intense demagoguery, stay far away from Capitol Hill, and, subsequently, any federal bench.


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