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Appeals court nominee Pryor passes committee over Democrats’ objections

WASHINGTON (BP)–Alabama Attorney General William Pryor’s nomination to a federal appeals court passed the Senate Judiciary Committee July 23 along a party-line 10-9 vote, with Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter breaking his silence and casting the deciding vote for the embattled nominee.

The vote on the nominee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had been delayed four previous times, and the focus on Specter had grown in recent days as he remained noncommittal to Pryor’s nomination.

An editorial by The New York Times July 23 called on Specter to vote no on Pryor, a pro-life Catholic. Specter is pro-choice and often breaks ranks with his party on social issues.

Before the vote, Specter said that while he was voting to send the nomination out of the committee, he was “reserving” judgment on how he will vote on the Senate floor.

Specter said he would “continue to be available to listen to my constituents on this very heavily lobbied nomination.” He also pointed out that in the past he has had “no hesitancy” in breaking ranks with his party.

Pryor’s nomination likely faces a filibuster from Democrats in the Senate, joining two additional nominees by President Bush already being filibustered.

After the committee vote, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, called on a full vote in the Senate. The ACLJ repeatedly has called filibusters against judicial nominees unconstitutional.

“Bill Pryor has explained his judicial philosophy fully and openly,” Sekulow said in a statement. “… He is committed to upholding the Constitution and will make an outstanding appeals court judge. We’re confident that he has the votes in the Senate to be confirmed.”

Two issues dominated committee debate: Pryor’s Catholic beliefs and the interpretation of Judiciary Committee Rule IV.

Pryor opposes abortion including cases of rape and incest — a position several Republican senators noted is consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. They wondered if future pro-life Catholics “need not apply” to court openings. But Democrats angrily denied such inferences, saying that Pryor’s beliefs should be debated on their merits and void of religious references.

Seeking to delay the nomination and wanting more debate, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., attempted to invoke Rule IV, but Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch overruled the request, saying Leahy’s interpretation was incorrect.

“[T]here is not going to be filibusters in this committee,” Hatch said. “This is the fifth time we’ve called for a vote. … All we want is a vote up [or] down.”

Rule IV states: “The Chairman shall entertain a non-debatable motion to bring a matter before the Committee to a vote. If there is objection to bring the matter to a vote without further debate, a rollcall vote of the Committee shall be taken, and debate shall be terminated if the motion to bring the matter to a vote without further debate passes with ten votes in the affirmative, one of which must be cast by the minority.”

Hatch said the rule exists to force a vote, not to delay one. The rule allows the minority — provided that one member of the majority sides with it — to force the chairman to hold a vote, he said.

“It does not say that a chairman doesn’t have the right to call for a vote,” he said, adding that two parliamentarians agreed with him.

But Leahy disagreed, saying that according to Rule IV at least one member of the minority — the Democrats — had to agree to end debate. He also noted that when the Republicans were in the minority Hatch’s interpretation was different.

“I apparently was wrong back then when I made that argument,” Hatch said to laughter.

Republicans defeated Leahy’s motion to override Hatch’s ruling before passing the nomination. Several Democrats voted against Pryor’s nomination by saying, “No under protest of violation of Rule IV.”

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  • Michael Foust