WASHINGTON - The Senate voted yesterday to confirm the appointment of former Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor Jr. to the federal appeals court in Atlanta, handing President Bush a trifecta of controversial judicial confirmations in advance of an expected Supreme Court nomination.
Pryor, an outspoken opponent of abortion and a champion of conservative causes, was confirmed by a narrow vote of 53-45, mostly along party lines.
"This is progress for the United States Senate. This is progress for the American people," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said after the vote.
Pryor is the third conservative judge to benefit from a backroom pact between 14 moderate Republicans and Democrats that ended a Democratic filibuster of his nomination. The nomination had been stalled for nearly two years.
The two others were Priscilla R. Owen of Texas and California's Janice Rogers Brown, who was confirmed to the federal bench Wednesday.
In return for ending the three filibusters, Democrats won a promise from Republicans not to support efforts to deny them the right to use the maneuver to stall future nominees. Democrats considered it important to retain that right with the expectation that Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist might retire shortly.
Three moderate Republicans broke ranks to vote against Pryor: Sen. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, and Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan M. Collins of Maine. Two centrist Democrats supported his confirmation: Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado.
Pryor may be best known on the national stage for his role in the controversy over a display of the Ten Commandments in the courtroom of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. As the state attorney general, Pryor supported Moore's right to display the monument.
But after the judge said he would defy a federal court order to remove it, Pryor enforced the order and prosecuted Moore for ethics violations, leading to his removal from the bench.
As a result of his role in the controversy, Pryor earned the enmity of liberal groups as well as that of conservative groups.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.