Published June 05, 2005
WASHINGTON – The sound bites and e-mails about their fitness to be federal appeals court judges — along with the demonization and canonization of their character — are almost over for Janice Rogers Brown (search) and William Pryor (search).
Senators warred almost three years over the nominations of the California Supreme Court justice and Alabama's former attorney general. This week, lawmakers will honor a truce on judges and on Democrats' use of filibusters to block nominees, and put Brown and Pryor on a path to confirmation.
The battle over Brown, Pryor and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen (search) included accusations of sexism, racism, elitism and religious bias. While that fight is ending, it offered a preview of what President Bush's first Supreme Court nominee may face.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist (search), 80, is battling cancer. Many court watchers expect a Supreme Court vacancy soon, possibly with the end of the court's current term.
Brown has been held up as an example of the kind of judge Bush would like on the nation's highest court. But the battle over getting Brown and Pryor on the appeals courts probably disqualifies either for an immediate shot at the Supreme Court.
Brown was compared negatively in a cartoon to Justice Clarence Thomas (search). Pryor's opponents said he was the "most anti-gay federal judicial nominee in memory."
The television commercials in which they were labeled "extreme" and "dangerous" will fade into memory.
So, too, will the praise from their supporters: Brown's rise as a sharecropper's daughter from segregated Alabama; Pryor's enforcement, as Alabama's attorney general, of a court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments (search) from a state building.
Brown was nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
As a result of a temporary recess appointment by Bush to get around a Democratic filibuster, Pryor already has joined the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Atlanta-based court had to help decide the fate of Terri Schiavo, the comatose woman whose parent and husband fought all the way to the Supreme Court over whether to keep her alive.
The federal courts refused to stop the removal of her feeding tube. Pryor has never made public which way he voted in those decisions. One of the court's orders did say Pryor did not vote because he is recovering from surgery.
Pryor opposes abortion rights and has criticized the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade (search) decision. But he promised he would follow the current law if confirmed for the regional court, one step below the Supreme Court. For his lifetime appointment to take effect, he needs confirmation from the Senate before the end of the year.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee circulated some of Pryor's writings on that court this year, hoping it would sway some Democratic votes his way.
"It shows a pattern by Judge Pryor of concern to protect the rights of those often overlooked in the legal system," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said last month. "No one has refuted that analysis."
Pryor's opponents are not convinced.
"Pryor has compared our love to bestiality, incest and pedophilia," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the gay-rights group Lambda Legal.
"He says prohibiting anti-gay discrimination is giving us 'special privileges.' And he thinks one of our recent Supreme Court victories against anti-gay bigotry amounts to 'new rules of political correctness,'" Cathcart said.
Despite the strong feelings on both sides, Democrats who had blocked Brown and Pryor will allow their confirmation now that moderate Republicans pledged to oppose efforts by GOP leaders to prohibit judicial filibusters.
A filibuster is a parliamentary tactic that requires 60 votes rather than a simple majority to overcome.
Owen, who also was part of the confirmation deal, was confirmed last month for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Pryor and Brown said little publicly about their nominations since their confirmation hearings in 2003 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
At that time, Brown refused to apologize for any of her speeches. In one, she described President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal (search) as "the triumph of our socialist revolution."
"The speech speaks for itself," she told Democrats. They were critical of her record as a jurist who supported limits on abortion rights and corporate liability and opposed affirmative action.
Liberals have portrayed her as a conservative judicial activist who ignores the law in favor of her own political views. To these critics, she replied, "I have only one agenda when I approach a case, and that is to try to get it right."
If confirmed, Brown would become the only second black woman on the D.C. court, which decides important government cases involving separation of powers and the authority of federal agencies.