WASHINGTON – The GOP-controlled Senate on Thursday approved former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor (search) for a seat on the U.S. Appeals Court, nearing the end of an unprecedented run of long-delayed judicial confirmations.
With a vote of 53-45, Pryor was approved for 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search), the Atlanta-based court that handles federal appeals from Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
President Bush (search) gave Pryor a recess appointment in February 2004 after Democrats filibustered his confirmation. That appointment would have ended this year if Pryor had not been confirmed by the Senate.
The Senate has confirmed three of President Bush's most-wanted appellate nominees in less than three weeks after a deal struck by Senate centrists looking to avoid a partisan battle over judicial filibusters.
"I could not be more pleased and proud that Judge Bill Pryor was part of the group that were agreed upon by those members of the Senate to get an up-or-down vote," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., one of Pryor's mentors and whose own nomination as a federal judge the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected in 1986. "Bill Pryor is the kind of judge America ought to have."
Democrats had fought to keep Pryor from getting a permanent judgeship. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., sued to get Pryor removed because he felt Bush's recess appointment was illegal. The courts rejected Kennedy's argument.
"After the president didn't get his way with William Pryor, he took the truly extraordinary step of making a recess appointment," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "So while the renomination of rejected judges was a thumb in the eye, the recess appointment of Bill Pryor was a punch in the face."
It takes 60 votes to bypass a filibuster. Republicans were able to get only 53 votes for Pryor in July 2003 and only 51 votes that November. On Wednesday the Senate voted 67-32 to end Pryor's filibuster.
The Senate also plans to confirm two other nominees, Michigan judges David McKeague and Richard Griffin, to the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati, and it expects to advance the nomination of Terrence Boyle, a North Carolina judge nominated to the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va.
Pryor's stint on the Atlanta court has not caused any controversy, a point noted by Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who circulated some of Pryor's writings on that court hoping it would sway some Democratic votes.
The Atlanta-based court helped to decide the fate of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose parents 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 the Schiavo case. 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 decision. But he promised that he would follow the law if confirmed for the regional court, one step below the Supreme Court.
Still, Democratic leaders wanted Pryor stopped, saying he will be a conservative vote against civil rights, women's rights and the environment.
"This is truly the trifecta on civil rights here this week in Washington, to confirm Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor and to report Terrence Boyle from this committee," said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. "When it comes to the issue of civil rights, it's a sad week."
The deadlocks over the nominations of Pryor, Brown and Owen ended under last month's historic deal on judicial filibusters. Crafted by Senate centrists, it avoided a partisan showdown over blocking the White House's judicial nominees.
A vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Boyle was delayed Thursday morning, but committee senators plan to try to meet again Thursday evening to move his nomination to the full Senate for confirmation.
Senators plan to leave Bush's other controversial nominees dangling while they wait to see if there's a Supreme Court debate in their future.
The Senate will move on to considering energy legislation and spending bills instead of taking up Bush's other appellate nominees, including Henry Saad, William Myers, William Haynes and Brett Kavanaugh.
Democrats have been arguing that the Republican-controlled Senate has spent too much time on Bush's judicial picks and not enough on the country's other priorities.
"We have spent two months — two months — dealing with basically five judges, all of whom have jobs," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Seven Democrats and seven Republicans signed a pact last month pledging not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, they agreed to