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Ending two years of bitter political fighting, the U.S. Senate late Thursday confirmed William H. Pryor Jr. to a lifetime seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by a 53-45 vote. The vote made permanent the position the former Alabama attorney general has held since President Bush, in response to Democratic-led filibusters, placed Pryor on the court by recess appointment last year. The confirmation vote came as a result of last month’s compromise in which moderate Democrats agreed to end filibusters against three Bush nominees, including Pryor, in return for moderate Republicans’ promise not to vote to ban judicial filibusters. The vote on Pryor came at 4 p.m., after about six hours of debate — covered live on C-SPAN2 — that sounded like a highlight reel from the two years of fighting over Pryor. Democrats claimed that a history of Pryor’s conservative opinions — both legal and personal — on abortion, states’ rights and church-state separation indicated a strong ideological bent incompatible with a place on the federal bench. Pryor’s Republican supporters countered with decisions that, they asserted, showed Pryor to be a capable, fair-minded lawyer and judge. Like the earlier votes clearing the way for two more of Bush’s formerly stalled appointees — former Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen and California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown — the outcome for Pryor was as inevitable as the flow of verbiage that preceded it. First up was Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, Pryor’s chief sponsor and the former attorney general whose place Pryor was appointed to fill when Sessions was elected to the Senate. Describing Pryor as “brilliant, a man of the highest integrity,” Sessions recounted some of Pryor’s actions that, he said, demonstrated the judge’s “commit[ment] to the rule of law, to doing the right thing, no matter what others might say … even if he might disagree.” Reciting a litany that would be repeated often throughout the day, he cited the staunchly pro-life Pryor’s instruction, as attorney general, to Alabama’s district attorneys to use a very narrow interpretation of Alabama’s partial-birth abortion ban, “because he had determined that portions were overbroad.” Sessions also cited Pryor’s prosecution of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore before the state Judicial Qualifications Commission when Moore refused to follow a federal court’s order that he remove a monument of the Ten Commandments he had installed in the Supreme Court. “The whole state of Alabama knows and respects [Pryor],” said Sessions, who later charged — as would the rest of Pryor’s supporters — that Pryor was facing anti-Catholic bias. “You can’t look at somebody’s religious beliefs and say, �You can’t be a judge,’” said Sessions. “Are we going to ask a Muslim to disavow his religious beliefs before we’ll allow him to be a judge? Of course not.” Deeming that charge “outrageous” and “ugly,” Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic Whip and a Judiciary Committee member, led off the opposition. “I am a Catholic,” noted Durbin, observing that many judicial officers routinely separate their religious views from their civic duties. But Durbin said he doubted Pryor would be able to do so, given his ardent expressions in the past, and he defended senators’ rights to ask whether that was so. Describing Pryor as an activist ideologue, Durbin went on to recount some of the judge’s more controversial statements. Quoting Pryor’s response to the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore, Durbin said Pryor had said “he wanted it to be 5-4, so the president would know ‘we can’t have another judge like Souter,’” referring to Justice David H. Souter, a Republican appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court whose support of abortion rights has disappointed pro-life groups. Durbin scoffed at the Republicans’ characterization of Pryor’s time as a state attorney general and his brief tenure on the appellate panel as indicating that he could rise above his ideology. “They call it courage,” said Durbin. “I call it doing your job.” Editor’s note: For a related story, see “Senate Completes Centrist Deal With Wave of Judicial Confirmations.”

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