Novak repeated conservative canard that Democrats “are opposing Judge Pryor of Alabama because of his religion”

CNN host and syndicated columnist Robert Novak repeated the baseless accusation that Democrats “are opposing Judge Pryor of Alabama because of his religion.” In fact, senators who have opposed William H. Pryor's nomination to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals -- and even current Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-PA) -- have questioned Pryor over his willingness and ability to put aside his personal views and follow the law. Specter also echoed Democrats' concerns over inconsistent statements Pryor made to the committee regarding his involvement in the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA).

If Democrats opposed nominees because of deeply held personal beliefs, presumably they would have blocked many more than the 10 who have been filibustered. Few, if any, of the 205 Bush nominees who have been confirmed (most with substantial support from Democrats) have expressed any views on controversial issues that deviate from conservative orthodoxy. Indeed, many have come out in strong opposition to abortion rights. And if Democrats opposed nominees, as Novak claims, “because of religion,” presumably those other nominees who are religious -- Catholic, Protestant Jewish, other -- would have been blocked as well, but that clearly didn't happen. What distinguishes Pryor, as well as the other nine nominees Democrats have filibustered, are statements they have made or actions they have taken that critics say suggest that they would allow personal ideology -- and not the dictates of the law -- to control their decisions.

On the issue of abortion, for example, Pryor referred to the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade as “the day seven members of our highest court ripped the Constitution and ripped out the life of millions of unborn children.” He has criticized the Supreme Court's ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey “for preserv[ing] the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history: Roe v. Wade.” In a response to a 2002 NARAL Pro-Choice America survey of attorneys general, he reiterated, “Abortion is murder, and Roe v. Wade is an abominable decision.” Such statements on that issue, as well as similarly inflammatory statements and actions he has taken on other issues, motivated several senators, including Specter, to question whether Pryor would be willing to follow the law. From the transcript of the June 11, 2003, hearing published by Federal News Service:

SPECTER: With that personal belief, Attorney General Pryor, what assurances can you give to the many who are raising the question as to whether, when you characterized [abortion] as an abomination and slaughter, that you can follow the decision of the United States Supreme Court, which you consider an abomination and having led to slaughter?


SPECTER: Attorney General Pryor, you are obviously a man with a very distinguished record. A magna cum laude undergrad and magna cum laude in law school, and you are a very articulate witness. You've had a very distinguished career. And what arises as a point of concern is that when these questions come up and they are so very, very close, whether your own philosophical orientation will steer you one way as opposed to another. So could you give us a statement as to the prevailing principles on these decisions which go both ways and have a very hard time to see somebody find a clear path as to what the standard is?

And, contrary to conservatives' claims that Democratic opponents have made an issue of Pryor's Catholicism, it was Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who first raised Pryor's religion, at a June 2003 committee hearing. According to a July 29, 2003, Newhouse News Service report: “The issue of Pryor's Catholicism surfaced at a June 11 hearing in Washington when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked him to state his religious affiliation.” The report went on to note that Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Specter “quickly protested that the question was out of bounds.”

Further, a report by the progressive judicial watchdog group Alliance for Justice noted that Democrats have raised ethical questions about Pryor's conduct in connection with RAGA. Despite voting for Pryor's nomination in the Judiciary Committee in July 2003, Specter said he would reserve judgment on a floor vote and cited the RAGA issue: “Before the floor vote, I intend to talk to [Pryor] about his role, if any, in soliciting campaign contributions from companies or individuals who were or were likely to be under investigation by his office” [Birmingham News (Alabama), 7/24/03]. Because Republicans have thus far failed to amass the 60 votes needed to stop the Democrats' filibuster of Pryor's nomination, Specter has yet to indicate how he would vote on the nomination.

From the April 27 edition of CNN's Crossfire:

NOVAK: They are -- they are opposing Judge Pryor of Alabama because of his religion.

PAUL BEGALA (co-host): No! No!

NOVAK: They have said --

BEGALA: They've approved any number of Catholics.

NOVAK: They talk about his religious views. They have.

BEGALA: They talk about his judicial views.