Showdown Over Ten Commandments in Alabama

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, August 22, that has been edited for clarity.

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TONY SNOW, HOST: It appears the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, will be suspended for 10 days, pending a review, for violating a federal judge's ruling to remove a Ten Commandments monument from inside the state's judicial building…

Joining us to discuss the controversy further is Alabama's Attorney General William Pryor (search).

Mr. Pryor, thanks you for joining us now. You're one of those who said that Roy Moore needs to go ahead, and obey the federal courts. Is that because federal courts have jurisdiction in constitutional matters?

WILLIAM PRYOR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, ALABAMA: Oh, absolutely. That's been my position because we have a government of laws, not of men, and after all of the arguments have been presented in a court of law and everyone has had an opportunity for appeals and review, at the end of the day, we have to obey court orders, whether we agree or disagree with them

SNOW: Now at this point, the Supreme Court (search) has not agreed to take up the case. Is there any possibility the U.S. Supreme Court might take this up or is this the end of the line for Chief Justice Roy Moore (search)?

PRYOR: Well, so far the chief justice has filed some request for stays and review… in the Supreme Court of the United States and they have declined to get involved. The only other side, though, that I would say is there are some lower court rulings that are at least, in general, conflicting. That is a time when the Supreme Court sometimes gets involved.

Earlier this summer, a federal court of appeals in Pennsylvania ruled that a depiction of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse in that state did not violate the Constitution. But beyond that, the Supreme Court so far has been reluctant to get involved.

SNOW: Chief Justice Moore says his reading of the Alabama Constitution compels him to believe that the Ten Commandments are perfectly at home there. When you read your state's Constitution, set aside the U.S. Constitution right now; is there anything in the Alabama State Constitution that would prohibit the display of those Ten Commandments in the judicial building?

PRYOR: I'm not aware of any provision of the Constitution of Alabama that would prohibit the display of the Ten Commandments. And I've been one who has believed that depictions of the Ten Commandments in courthouses are appropriate. I believe the Ten Commandments are a cornerstone of our legal heritage.

But there is a big debate in the federal courts about whether that kind of display violates the First Amendment. And in this case, a federal court has ruled and, as a result, all of the associate justices of the state Supreme Court have overruled the chief justice and demanded that the state be brought into compliance with that injunction. And I totally support them in that.

… out of respect for this court proceeding, I haven't really commented about this particular display. As a general rule, though, I have argued in support of displays of the Ten Commandments. The Supreme Court of the United States has in its building and its in courtroom several depictions of the Ten Commandments and they are a source of our legal history. There is no question about that. And I don't see that it's inappropriate as a general rule to display them in a courtroom or courthouse.

SNOW: Would you like to see the U.S. Supreme Court render a decision on this one?

PRYOR: Ultimately, I think it would be very helpful for the Supreme Court to rule on this question. There are monuments and depictions of the Ten Commandments on courthouse grounds and other public buildings across the United States. There may be thousands of these.

SNOW: This case has really ignited public reaction, both for and against. But I know there are a lot of people furious over the removal for the plaque. What do you say to those Americans who think right now that their own most deeply held beliefs have basically been ruled off limits by the courts?

PRYOR: Well, I share the frustrations of many citizens about some rulings of federal courts in the area of the First Amendment. But ultimately, what protects our freedom and our liberty in this country is that we're all governed by the rule of law. That means no person, including the chief justice of my state, is above the law. And at the end of the day, when courts have the opportunity to settle these controversies, we have to respect their rulings.

Now, after those rulings come down, we also have the opportunity to change the law if we disagree with the court rulings. There are mechanisms for doing that, including ultimately amending the Constitution. But in the meantime, we have to respect the rule of law because that protects the freedom of all of us.

SNOW: Mr. Attorney General, you've been nominated by the president for a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judgeship. Democrats say they're going to filibuster. Are you going to stay the course?

PRYOR: Well, I'm honored to be a nominee of the president and I will be one as long as he wants me to be his nominee. And I'm honored that the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate gave me a favorable recommendation.

In the meantime, I have the tremendous privilege, a privilege I love, of representing the people of my state as attorney general.

SNOW: All right. Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor — William Pryor, thank you for joining us.

PRYOR: Thank you.

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