Bush Uses Recess Appointment to Place Pryor on Appeals Court Bench

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:21pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - President Bush used a recess appointment Friday to give Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor a seat on 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily. This comes after Democrats' efforts to block the nomination through filibusters of Pryor and several other judicial nominees to prevent them from receiving a vote from the full Senate.

Pryor was sworn in by U.S. Circuit Judge Ed Carnes in a private ceremony in Alabama Friday. His appointment is expected to last until the end of 2005.

"A minority of Democratic senators has been using unprecedented obstructionist tactics to prevent him and other qualified nominees from receiving up-or-down votes," Bush said. "Their tactics are inconsistent with the Senate's constitutional responsibility and are hurting our judicial system."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State was disappointed with the news.

"This action shows utter contempt of the process of judicial selection," said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "It's also proof that Bush is determined to stack the federal courts with far-right judicial activists."

"An extremist like William Pryor should not be awarded a seat on the federal bench, even temporarily," he said, calling the action, "an election-year payoff to the Religious Right."

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) applauded the news, saying in a statement that the seat to which "Pryor has been nominated has been designated as a 'judicial emergency' by the Judicial Conference of the United States."

"General Pryor is extremely well qualified for the bench and has earned a reputation as one of America's most experienced and esteemed state Attorneys General," Frist said. "General Pryor is a man of integrity committed to the rule of law, not making law from the bench. I am confident he will impartially interpret the law and uphold justice."

Frist said Bush was "forced to make this recess appointment because of the unprecedented filibuster that Senate Democrats have used to block an up-or-down vote on General Pryor and five other nominees."

"This obstructionism must stop," he urged. "I call on my Democrat colleagues to stop filibustering the President's other judicial nominees and to cancel their plans to filibuster several other nominees who will be voted out of the Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks and months."

"Once again, President Bush has shown that he will not allow an obstructionist minority in the U.S. Senate to derail the judicial confirmations process through unprecedented use of the filibuster," said C. Boyden Gray, chairman of the Committee for Justice (CFJ), which promotes constitutionalist judicial nominees.

"Pryor was harshly attacked by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats for his 'deeply held beliefs' - code, many believed, for his traditional Catholicism - and derided as unable to distinguish between the law and his personal views," Boyden said in a statement Friday.

Liberal groups, like Americans United, and Democrats accused Pryor of attacking what they called "church-state separation," referring to the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which simply says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused Democrats of forcing the president to use the recess appointment to get Pryor on the federal appeals court bench.

"Those who have chosen to continually filibuster the President's well-qualified judicial nominees have driven the President to use his authority and ensure that our judicial system continues," Cornyn said.

"Bill Pryor is a good man who had the support of a bipartisan, majority of the Senate and was refused an up-or-down vote. He will serve well in his new role on the federal bench," he said, adding that the president's decision was a "constitutional response to an unconstitutional filibuster."

Gray accused Pryor's critics of trying to "distort Pryor's record," but those actions backfired, he said.

"Because the American people gave Republicans a majority in the Senate, the Democrats could not block Pryor in committee, nor could they find Republicans willing to withhold support for the mainstream Pryor," Gray said.

"Unable to block him legitimately and democratically, they blocked him by permanent minority filibuster, an unconstitutional measure, which, until the 108th Congress, had no precedent in American history," he concluded.

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