December 13, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — In an interview two weeks ago, Donald Trump announced that he narrowed his list of Supreme Court nominees to “three or four” candidates and planned to make his choice “pretty soon.”
Undoubtedly, at the top of that short list is William Pryor Jr., an appellate judge from Alabama and protege of Trump's pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.
In 1997, Pryor succeeded Sessions as Attorney General of Alabama when Sessions was elected to the U.S. Senate. In turn, when President Bush nominated Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003, Sen. Sessions became Pryor's most vocal proponent, aiding him throughout his embattled Senate confirmation process.
Judge Pryor's reputation, as presented by the mainstream media, is of being ragingly anti-abortion and anti-homosexual. Judge Pryor famously called abortion “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history,” and has been willing to support the right of states to outlaw homosexual sodomy. On the other hand, mainstream conservatives, including several writers at the National Review, have described Pryor as the “most rock-ribbed conservative of any potential Supreme Court appointee.” And the general consensus is that Pryor would be the most Scalia-like of the contenders on Trump's list.
And yet, we should have grave concerns about Pryor's potential nomination because he was the Attorney General who vigorously prosecuted Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore over his display of the Ten Commandments at the Alabama Supreme Court.
In 1997, when Pryor was running for election as Attorney General of Alabama, he made it clear that he supported Judge Moore's display of the Ten Commandments. The Wall Street Journal reported the following comments made by Pryor while addressing a crowd gathered to support Judge Moore, “If they (U.S. Supreme Court) can have three references to the Ten Commandments in their courtroom, I want to know why Judge [Roy] Moore, your neighbor, can't have one.”
Pryor continued his support of Judge Moore in 1999, when he participated in strategy sessions with Governor James (who appointed Pryor in 1997) and Judge Moore, in preparation to defend Judge Moore against a lawsuit from the ACLU.
However, Pryor's support of Judge Moore was terminated drastically when he was nominated by President Bush to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and was filibustered by Democrats in the U.S. Senate who considered him too religious. In short order, as The Washington Post reported, Attorney General Pryor started working “behind the scenes to orchestrate the state officials” to have Judge Moore removed from office. Eventually, he was successful in having Judge Moore removed, and thanks to a recess appointment, he took his seat on the federal bench.
Judge Pryor subsequently wrote an apologia for his prosecution of Judge Moore, which was published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. This article, titled Moral Duty and the Rule of Law (2008), attempts to make the case that Pryor's actions in prosecuting Judge Moore followed the moral example of St. Thomas More, the English lawyer who was beheaded by Henry VIII for refusing to acknowledge the king of England as the head of the Church.
Yet there are very serious errors in Judge Pryor's comparison of himself to St. Thomas More. His first error, and one which should cast serious doubts upon his characterization as an originalist, is that he does not actually reference St. Thomas More's own writings, many of which are extant, or even the writings of Thomas More scholars. Instead, Judge Pryor relies on the fictionalized dialogue of the Oscar-winning film A Man for All Seasons, written by the agnostic humanist playwright, Robert Bolt. And yet even there Judge Pryor misconstrues the text.
Judge Pryor explains in his apologia that his prosecution of Judge Moore was based upon his promise to uphold his oath of office: “My oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution required me, as attorney general of Alabama, to obey the injunction without regard to whether I agreed with the basis for that injunction.”
In contrast, Judge Pryor describes Judge Moore's actions as unjustly defying the rule of law and concludes that “a private citizen may, in extreme circumstances, engage in civil disobedience and accept the punishment of an unjust law, but a public official has no such option. A public official is sworn to uphold the law.”
And here is the most crucial and instructive question of this matter: What is the law that both men swore to uphold? In the case of the Attorney General and the Chief Justice of Alabama Supreme Court, it is the same supreme law, namely, the Constitution of Alabama and the Constitution of the United States.
Abstracted from the question of religion, the case that Attorney General Pryor was willing to prosecute, and in so doing destroy another man's legal career, was to enforce as legitimate law the tyrannical power that the American federal judiciary has claimed as its own. On the other hand, Judge Moore was willing to become a legal pariah, lose his job and benefits, and be mocked by the ruling elite in order to honor his oath of office to uphold the constitutions of Alabama and the United States that insist upon checks and balances, limited government, and a sovereign people.
The comparison could not be starker. One man was willing to enforce the tyrant's orders and the other was not. Far from proving himself a St. Thomas More, William Pryor proved himself to be a Thomas Cromwell.
In the preface to the theater edition of A Man for All Seasons, the writer, Robert Bolt, seeks to put into context his depiction of the actions of St. Thomas More. In those insightful comments, we can glimpse at the hierarchy of the law that Bolt understood St. Thomas More was willing to die for. Bolton explains that “the English Kingdom, his immediate society, was subservient to the larger society of the Church of Christ, founded by Christ, extending over Past and Future, ruled from Heaven.”
St. Thomas More was killed because he refused to acknowledge that an earthly king could rule the Church. Judge Roy Moore was persecuted by then Attorney General William Pryor because he refused to acknowledge that the tyrannical federal judiciary can rule unchecked over the sovereign people of the United States.
But Judge Pryor's prosecution of Judge Moore while he was Attorney General of Alabama is not only important for the light it sheds on Judge Pryor's judicial philosophy on the matter of judicial supremacy. At the heart of that trial was whether Judge Moore as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama was violating the US and Alabama Constitutions by acknowledging God; by acknowledging the “Laws of Nature and of Nature's God,” as a higher, more foundational and inviolable law, which the positive man-made law can only uphold and never contradict.
This shocking excerpt from then Attorney General Pryor's questioning of Judge Moore reveals on which side Judge Pryor would rule when confronted with a tyrannical court bent on trampling upon the religious liberty of Americans:
William Pryor: And your understanding is that the Federal Court ordered that you could not acknowledge God; isn't that right?
Roy Moore: Yes.
William Pryor: And if you resume your duties as Chief Justice after this proceeding, you will continue to acknowledge God as you have testified that you would today?
Roy Moore: That's right.
William Pryor: No matter what any other official says?
Roy Moore: Absolutely. Without – let me clarify that. Without an acknowledgement of God, I cannot do my duties. I must acknowledge God. It says so in the Constitution of Alabama. It says so in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It says so in everything I have read. So –
William Pryor: The only point I am trying to clarify, Mr. Chief Justice, is not why, but only that, in fact, if you do resume your duties as Chief Justice, you will continue to do that without regard to what any other official says; isn't that right?
Roy Moore: Well, I'll do the same thing that this court did with starting with prayer; that's an acknowledgement of God. Now, we did the same thing that justices do when they place their hand on the Bible and say, “So help me God.” It's an acknowledgement of God. The Alabama Supreme Court opens with “God save the state and this honorable court.” It's an acknowledgement of God. In my opinions, which I have written many opinions, acknowledging God is the source – a moral source of our law. I think you must.
In his account of the trial of St. Thomas More, Gerard Wegemer, director of the Center for Thomas More Studies, concludes with the following analysis: “King Henry’s tyranny could have been checked, or at least deprived of legal justification. Once again, however, tyranny succeeded not through war but through law. It succeeded not through the force of evil but through the simple negligence of those who considered themselves good.”
Pryor's prosecution of Chief Justice Moore should cast serious doubts upon his ability to resist the temptation of an all-powerful judiciary, one that makes lawyers into tyrants to rule over the nation.