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It’s official: The filibuster against the nomination of Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor Jr. to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has begun. The U.S. Senate on Thursday fell seven votes shy of the 60 votes required to put the nomination to an up-or-down vote. All 51 Republicans, plus Democrats Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted to end debate on Pryor. But the Democrats collected 44 votes against ending debate, sending Pryor into legislative limbo. He joins two of President Bush’s other appeals court nominees, Miguel A. Estrada for the D.C. Circuit and Priscilla R. Owen for the 5th Circuit, who have been filibuster targets for months. Republicans have decried the Democrats’ use of the filibuster, which allows the minority party in the Senate to put a stop to legislative business it does not like. Democrats have defended the tactic as a rare step in a small number of highly controversial nominations, noting that 140 of Bush’s circuit and district court nominees have been approved. Pryor’s conservative views — against abortion, broad powers of the federal government with regard to civil rights laws and legalizing homosexual sodomy, among other things — have drawn fierce opposition from liberal groups. Pryor had no comment on the Senate vote, according to a spokeswoman. Sheldon Goldman, a University of Massachusetts political science professor who’s written extensively on judicial nominations, said on Thursday that the Democrats’ filibusters were indeed unprecedented. But he added, “It was unprecedented during the Clinton administration for the Republicans to bottle up so many nominees. The effect was the same.” For example, during the Clinton administration, 8th Circuit nominee Bonnie Campbell and D.C. Circuit nominee Allan Snyder had hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the spring of 2000. But the committee chairman, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, never called the nominations to a vote. Other nominees, such as Kathleen McCree Lewis and Helene White for the 6th Circuit, waited years without getting a hearing. Goldman said from his perspective, the Democrats’ filibuster “is the way it should be,” because their obstruction is public — requiring them to explain their reasons for stopping an up-or-down vote. Debating the Pryor nomination on Wednesday night, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said, “Mr. Pryor’s record is clear. He is an aggressive supporter of rolling back the power of Congress to remedy violations of civil rights. He is a vigorous opponent of the constitutional right to privacy and a woman’s right to choose. He is an aggressive advocate of the death penalty, even for individuals who are mentally retarded. He is contemptuously dismissive of claims of racial bias in the application of the death penalty. He is an ardent opponent of gay rights.” Later, Pryor’s chief sponsor, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., pointed out that Pryor’s views on the power of the federal government have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Regarding abortion, Sessions noted that as attorney general, Pryor had ordered that state district attorneys strictly construe an Alabama law prohibiting partial-birth abortion so that the state would not violate Supreme Court precedents. “I don’t think there is a politician in America who has so consistently taken very difficult positions in a political environment — positions most people would say a politician was crazy to take — than Bill Pryor,” Sessions said. “He did it, and there is only one principle guiding him. What is that principle? It was required by the law. He is a man of the law.”

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