Former Alabama Gov. Forrest H. "Fob" James has released an affidavit asserting that William Pryor agreed to help him defy the federal courts in a dispute over governmental display of the Ten Commandments.
The James document, issued Oct. 24, is further evidence that Pryor holds extreme views and is unfit for a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
President George W. Bush has nominated Pryor to the appeals court, but Senate opponents are blocking his confirmation, arguing that his views are too extreme. In action Nov. 6, 43 senators voted to block Pryor's confirmation, while 51 voted to move to a floor vote on the nomination. (Under Senate rules, 60 votes are required to shut off debate.)
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said the James affidavit proves that fears about Pryor are well grounded.
"If the Senate has been looking for a smoking gun, this is it," said Lynn. "In this affidavit, James details how Pryor agreed with the radical view that the state of Alabama could ignore federal court rulings."
Continued Lynn, "Anyone who believes that should be automatically disqualified from consideration for the federal bench."
James, a former two-term Alabama governor, submitted the affidavit in an effort to force Pryor to recuse himself from prosecuting Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Moore was prosecuted because earlier this year he defied a federal court order to remove a large Ten Commandments sculpture from display at the Alabama Judicial Building.
James was governor when Moore, then a local judge in Etowah County, Ala., was sued for displaying a Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom. James, a frequent supporter of Religious Right causes, backed Moore's display and says he sought Pryor's opinion on defying the federal courts, should a decision come down ordering Moore to remove the plaque.
In his affidavit, James asserts that Pryor agreed with James' view that states can lawfully resist orders from federal courts.
"I talked with Bill Pryor about all this when I was considering him for the job of Alabama Attorney-General," stated James in the affidavit. "He impressed me with his knowledge of these things and provided me with some legal papers on 'nonacquiescence' that he was responsible for while at the Tulane Law School. I told Bill about my view that constitutional officials needed to challenge the Supreme Court. For instance, for twenty years my view has been that a Governor should refuse to allow enforcement of a patently unconstitutional court order, and force the president to take action one way or the other on the issue.... Bill Pryor was aware of my views when I appointed him, because we discussed these things. Bill had indicated nothing but his wholehearted support of my position on these issues at the time."
James' son, Forrest H. James III, also submitted an affidavit. The younger James said that during a February 1997 meeting, he asked Pryor if he would join Gov. James in defying a federal court order requiring Moore to remove the Ten Commandments plaque.
"At the conference, I raised the question of what legal position would be taken, if after all appeals were exhausted, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against us, and the Governor refused to obey the Supreme Court's order," said the younger James. "Bill Pryor said in response, 'I will be with him.' This is the last time that I personally know, or was told by the Governor, that Pryor was willing to stand with Governor James in disobeying a U.S. Supreme Court order."
Lynn said the documents' contents should doom Pryor's nomination.
"These affidavits make it clear that Bill Pryor was involved in ill-advised schemes to defy federal court rulings in Alabama," Lynn said. "Now Pryor wants to sit on the very court he was so eager to defy. His arrogance is mind-boggling. President Bush should immediately withdraw Pryor's nomination and replace him with someone who respects the Constitution."
In other news about judicial nominees:
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 6 approved the nomination of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown to a federal appeals court, despite her controversial views on church-state separation and the role of the federal courts in American life.
On a party-line vote, after an hour or so of debate, the Committee approved the nomination of Brown to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Americans United had sent a letter to the committee in late October urging the defeat of Brown because of her extreme and outdated views on religious liberty and other constitutional rights.
In a 1999 speech at Pepperdine University, Brown lambasted the U.S. Supreme Court for relying "on a rather uninformative metaphor of the 'wall of separation' between church and state." In the same speech, Brown declared that the federal courts were probably wrong to have interpreted the Bill of Rights as applying to the states.
Observers expect a move in the Senate to block the Brown nomination from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.