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Pryor's drive to elect conservative judges

Mother Jones reports: Like many of President Bush's lower-court nominees, William H. Pryor Jr. has had a hand in just about every legal social theory that drives Senate Democrats to outrage. As the attorney general of Alabama, he pushed for the execution of the mentally retarded, compared homosexuality to bestiality, defended the posting of Bible quotes at the courthouse door, and advocated rescinding a portion of the Voting Rights Act. He called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history."

So when Pryor, a boyish 41-year-old, came before the Judiciary Committee in June wearing a carefully folded kerchief in his pin-striped suit, opposing senators clashed over whether such views disqualified him from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans, led by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, praised Pryor's distinguished career, his numerous awards, and the hundreds of letters supporting his nomination. They tossed him softball questions about his "mainstream" approach to the law. ...

But it also obscured the most important factor in Pryor's swift rise from Mobile, Alabama, to the national stage: his longtime courting of corporate America. "The business community must be engaged heavily in the election process as it affects legal and judicial offices," Pryor told business leaders in 1999, after refusing to join other attorneys general in lawsuits against the tobacco and gun industries. To facilitate that engagement, Pryor created a controversial group called the Republican Attorneys General Association, which skirted campaign-finance laws by allowing corporations to give unlimited checks anonymously to support the campaigns of Pryor and other "conservative and free market oriented Attorneys General." ...

Pryor never identified the source of this war chest. But recently leaked documents show he knew at the time that he was raising money from the same companies he refused to prosecute on behalf of Alabama's citizens. According to phone records, he personally solicited funds for the Republican Attorneys General Association from executives at R.J.Reynolds, Philip Morris, and other Fortune 500 companies. The National Rifle Association, clearly pleased by his refusal to sue gun makers, also contributed to the fund after Pryor called for a donation, the phone records show. The undisclosed checks for up to $25,000 got lobbyists invitations to shoot skeet, play golf, and enjoy a "stress-relief spa" with Republican attorneys general. The potential for ethical conflicts was too potent for several of Pryor's Republican peers. Betty Montgomery, Ohio's attorney general, went so far as to pull out of the organization, telling a local newspaper, "I raised some questions about who we were raising money from." -- The Making of the Corporate Judiciary

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