Politics & Policy

Why They Hate Bill Pryor

Follow the money.

Why is the anti-English lobby opposing Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor’s nomination to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals? Because he cost them a great deal of money.

The Alliance for Justice, a leading Pryor opponent, includes the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. If the AALDEF sounds vaguely familiar to you, it should.

Bill Lann Lee who went on to become Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, via a recess appointment by Bill Clinton, began his 23-year career as a civil-rights litigator with the AALDEF in 1974.

Groups like AALDEF profit by filing and winning lawsuits. This is because federal civil-rights laws allow “a reasonable attorney’s fee” to successful litigants.

What constitutes a “reasonable” fee? “The product of an attorney’s reasonable hourly rate and a reasonable number of hours spent on the case,” or, in practice, whatever outrageous sum a judge or other finder of fact is willing to tolerate.

Until the Supreme Court ruled differently in 2001, any individual could file a lawsuit against any recipient of federal funds. This “right of private action” enabled the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU to file a lawsuit against Alabama’s requirement that all Alabama driver’s license tests must be given only in English.

The bad guys won what became the Sandoval case. “National origin” now included “language” and Alabama’s English-only driver’s license tests became illegal.

Alabama appealed. And guess who defended the lower-court ruling in a brief to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals? Bill Lann Lee, now employed by the U.S. government. On November 30, 1999, the bad guys won again.

As Alabama’s attorney general, Bill Pryor could have quit this fight. But he believed an important principle, federalism, was at stake in Sandoval. So he appealed to the Supreme Court.

On September 26, 2000, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Pryor’s appeal. (Full disclosure: English First Foundation joined a legal brief requesting the Supreme Court to review the Sandoval ruling.)

The Supreme Court’s decision to review the case clearly astounded the anti-English lobby. Just 46 days earlier, on August 11, 2000, Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 13166, which declared that language was now a protected civil right.

E.O. 13166 directly cited an interpretation of its proper implementation, signed by the ubiquitous Bill Lann Lee.

Lee declared that E.O. 13166 applied to as few as one speaker of any language whatsoever. This meant that full compliance with E.O. 13166 would be impossible. Any organization, such as Lee’s former employer, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, could now file a language-rights lawsuit certain that it would win and pocket a hefty check for “attorney’s fees.”

E.O. 13166, coupled with the lower-court ruling in Sandoval, would have given the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund a permanent, guaranteed revenue stream Microsoft would envy.

Thankfully, on April 21, 2001, the Supreme Court agreed with Bill Pryor instead of Bill Lann Lee and reversed the Sandoval ruling. Accordingly, the anti-English lobby has millions of reasons to despise Bill Pryor. The United States Senate does not.

Jim Boulet Jr. is executive director of English First.


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