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Law

Bush uses recess appointment to put nominee on court

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, left, with his Senate sponsor Sen. Richard Shelby, on Capitol Hill in 2003.
Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, left, with his Senate sponsor Sen. Richard Shelby, on Capitol Hill in 2003.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush Friday gave a recess appointment to Bill Pryor, naming him to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals months after Senate Democrats had filibustered to block his nomination, Pryor told CNN.

Pryor resigned his post as Alabama attorney general and was to immediately assume a seat on the federal bench.

White House aides called key senators Friday to inform them of the decision.

It is the second time Bush has appointed a federal judge whose nomination had been blocked by Senate Democrats while Congress is in recess.

Like the other recess appointee, Judge Charles Pickering, Pryor is eligible to serve until the end of the year.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is one level below the U.S. Supreme Court in the federal judiciary. Pickering was named to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Constitution gives presidents the power to bypass Congress and make recess appointments to judgeships and other positions that require Senate confirmation. Since 1789, when the first judicial recess appointment was made, presidents have appointed more than 300 judges by this method. Recess appointments are rare.

Bush has long accused Senate Democrats of waging a campaign to block his appointees to the federal bench, and senior Bush advisers see little risk of political backlash. In fact, judicial appointments are a key rallying cry for the GOP's conservative base.

In a written statement, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, applauded the move.

"General Pryor is a man of integrity committed to the rule of law, not making law from the bench. I am confident he will impartially interpret the law and uphold justice."

Frist said Bush had been "forced to make this recess appointment because of the unprecedented filibuster that Senate Democrats have used. ... This obstructionism must stop."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, a judiciary committee member, lambasted the move. "The president is on shaky ground with the hard right and is using this questionably legal and politically shabby technique to bolster himself. Regularly circumventing the advise and consent process is not the way to change the tone in Washington. The only solace we have is that Mr. Pryor will be off the bench in 10 months."

Abortion rights advocates are among those who had lobbied against the nomination, because of a public statement he made that was critical of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

As Alabama's attorney general, Pryor was a key figure in the removal of Chief Justice Roy Moore for defying a federal judge's order to take out a Ten Commandments monument from the judicial building in Montgomery, saying it violated the principle of separation of religion and state. Moore was removed from office in November.

"This moment is bittersweet," Pryor said in a written statement. "I will miss the tremendous challenges of this office, but I am confident that Gov. Bob Riley will choose an able leader to serve for the remainder of this term of office."

Pryor, a Republican and self-professed conservative Christian, supported the monument's installation, but said Moore was bound to obey the judge's order.

A spokeswoman for the Alabama attorney general's office said Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Allen would serve as attorney general until Gov. Bob Riley appoints someone to replace Pryor.


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