Reaction to George W. Bush’s Feb. 20 back-door appointment of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor as a U.S. appeals court judge was swift and scathing.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the senior members of the Judiciary Committee, called President Bush’s going around the Senate – for the second time in five weeks – “a flagrant abuse of presidential power.”

“This is an outrageous appointment, of a nominee who has questionable commitment to the authority of the Supreme Court and the rule of law,” Kennedy said.

NOW President Kim Gandy said, “It is outrageous that Bush has again circumvented the legal process to appoint a right-wing judicial activist during a Congressional recess. This further demonstrates his total disregard for the women of this country and democracy in general.”

The Constitution gives the president authority to install nominees in office when Congress is not in session. President Bush has used this tactic when he can’t get his judicial nominees approved any other way. Last month, he did the same thing with Mississippi federal Judge Charles Pickering, appointing him to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Bush said Pryor’s “impressive record demonstrates his devotion to the rule of law and to treating all people equally under the law.” However, since the president picked Pryor last April for a seat on the 11th Circuit, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida, opponents have successfully blocked the nomination five times – most recently last November – based on the attorney general’s appalling record on civil rights and civil liberties.

The NAACP issued a statement in July opposing Pryor’s nomination based on his “demonstrated hostility toward protections for African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities, women and [those] affected by the criminal justice system.”

Under Pryor’s leadership, Alabama was the only state to challenge the constitutionality of a provision of the Violence Against Women Act. He also argued that the Supreme Court should cut back on the protections of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Clean Water Act.

In what the NAACP called “real contempt for voting rights protections,” Pryor has urged Congress to consider getting rid of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which protects the right to vote for African Americans.

In 1997, Pryor attended a “Save the [Ten] Commandments” rally in Montgomery, Ala., where he stated: “God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time and this place for all Christians … to save our country and save our courts.” He has consistently criticized efforts to safeguard the rights of gays and lesbians.

Over the course of his career in the attorney general’s office, Pryor has been a vocal opponent of the rights of criminal defendants. In 1995, Alabama revived the practice of chaining unruly prisoners to hitching posts. One inmate had been handcuffed to a post on several occasions and denied access to water and the bathroom. Pryor vigorously defended these actions even though the U.S. Supreme Court, citing the “obvious cruelty inherent in this practice,” ruled the prisoner “was treated in a way antithetical to human dignity.”

“For Bush to declare this man as a ‘distinguished public servant’ is a slap in the face to anyone who has worked for equal rights in this country,” said Gandy. “By acting in this devious manner, Bush has once again proved that his agenda is completely out of touch with our society.”

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