Those who followed the judicial wars of the Bush years will remember that one of the most fiercely fought battles, involving one of the supposedly most controversial and allegedly “extreme” nominees of all, was the one over the nomination of Alabama’s then-Attorney General Bill Pryor for a spot on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. If one listened to Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer, one would have thought that Pryor would be such an outlier, such a radical, that he would never gain mainstream respect.
Well, perish the thought. Last week, Pryor was unanimously confirmed by the Senate for a spot on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. (He does not lose his judgeship; he just gets extra duties and authority of a sort.) The Sentencing Commission is right now engaged in a serious effort to reform federal sentencing guidelines — a hugely important job. One does not get appointed to the commission without respect on both sides of the aisle.
While the commission is supposed to be balanced in terms of political parties, and Pryor is getting a “Republican spot,” as recommended by GOP Senate leadership , all spots are technically nominaed by the president, who could theoretically refuse. Instead, President Obama went along with the Pryor nomination. So much for the idea that Pryor is some dangerous radical; instead, in nearly nine years on the bench, he has earned a reputation as a superb and thoughtful jurist.
But lest anybody think he has “gone wobbly,” it should be noted that Pryor asked Justice Clarence Thomas to administer his oath for his new spot on the Commission.
This country’s legal system is in much better hands because conservatives fought to put Pryor on the bench.