WASHINGTON – Senators delayed voting on Alabama Attorney General William Pryor (search)'s nomination to a federal appeals court Thursday amid questions about Pryor's fund-raising activities for a GOP attorneys general group.
The Senate Judiciary Committee first delayed a scheduled morning vote and then put off the vote until next week. Pryor wants a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) in Atlanta, but Democrats have complained about his strong comments against abortion and gays.
Democrats wanted to postpone the vote until they can question Pryor about fund-raising activities for the Republican Attorneys General Association (search). The organization raises money for GOP attorneys general.
Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, opposed any delay but said he was confident it will not hurt Pryor's chances in the Republican-led committee.
"We think Pryor a great person. In fact, we know he is and we expect him to be brought out of the committee and brought up on the floor," for a vote by all senators, Hatch said.
At his confirmation hearing and in writing later, Pryor told the committee that so far as he knows, he never raised money from tobacco companies or companies under investigation by his office.
Democrats say they have documents from the group showing Pryor may have been involved in telephone solicitations from such companies.
"The issue here, if I might say, is not, in my judgment, the fund-raising activities of Mr. Pryor," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "It is rather, when asked about those activities, whether he answered accurately and fully and truthfully. He may well have, he may well have not, but we ought to find out."
Hatch and the Republicans said they are confident that all the answers Pryor gave are correct. "There's nothing here," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said angrily.
But some Democrats disagreed. "The nominee's answers did not correspond to what the documents are suggesting," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
Added Schumer: "You can't jump to the conclusion that Mr. Pryor did something wrong here, but you also can't jump to the conclusion that he did something right. The logical thing to do which is why it makes sense to delay is to wait until this bipartisan investigation is looked at."
The scheduled morning vote was put off under a rarely invoked rule banning committee work two hours after a Senate session begins. It was not immediately known who asked for the two-hour rule, which can be done anonymously, but Hatch blamed the Democrats.
Hatch said he wanted to hold a special late-night session but later decided to leave the vote until next Wednesday to accommodate the schedule of the ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Hatch said the whole affair was another attempt by Democrats to delay a Bush nominee. Democrats are filibustering two, Miguel Estrada (search) for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Priscilla Owen (search) for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"This is pure politics, pure and simple," Hatch said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former member of the Republican Attorneys General Association, called the Democrats' questions "hypocrisy."
"Elected officials can and do raise money for their political party all the time, there's nothing wrong with it. It's perfectly legal," Cornyn said. "Democrats do it too, there's a Democrat Attorneys General Association. I dare say members of this committee occasionally raise money for their political party."
The Senate also confirmed Allyson Duncan for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a 93-0 vote. The Raleigh, N.C., attorney and former state appeals court judge becomes the first black woman on the regional court that handles federal appeals from West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.
President Bush made Roger Gregory the first black to sit permanently on that court in 2001.
Duncan, a Duke University law school graduate, has also served stints at a professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Law and on the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
The last North Carolinian to serve on that court was Samuel James Ervin III, who was appointed in 1980 and died in 1999 while still on the court.