Pryor nomination hot potato

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 19, 2003

It’s not personal. It’s business.

Well, actually, it’s politics &045;&045; which has a way of blurring the line between what’s personal and what’s business.

President Bush’s nomination of Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor for a seat on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals offers a case study in how politics can blur lines.

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Pryor’s nomination has served to give voice to two strongly differing viewpoints on how best to advance the cause of civil rights even within the ranks of civil rights activists.

One camp argues that Pryor has an admirable record of dispensing equal justice for persons of all races, including being one of the few white elected officials in Alabama to openly support the elimination of the state’s constitutional ban on interracial marriage.

The other camp dismisses him as &uot;an avowed proponent of the modern states rights movement&uot; who has publicly advocated eliminating a key section of the Voting Rights Act.

Among the civil rights heavyweights who oppose Pryor’s nomination are the Revs. Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King III. Blacks who support his nomination include state Rep. Alvin Holmes and the Alabama Education Association’s Dr. Joe Reed.

Some of that difference of opinion has even spilled over to Selma &045;&045; not that this city has ever needed much help generating controversy.

Representative of the two opposing viewpoints are Faya Rose Toure &045;&045; certainly no stranger to controversy &045;&045; and Artur Davis, the freshman congressman from Alabama’s 7th District.

Davis has endorsed Pryor’s nomination; Toure opposes the nomination. In an exchange of personal correspondence dating back to April 17, Toure has repeatedly urged Davis to reconsider his support of Pryor and even questioned Davis’ own commitment to civil rights.

Davis has steadfastly defended both his support of Pryor and his own record.

Increasingly that exchange has grown, well, personal.

Davis recently took the exchange public by releasing a letter he had written to Toure dated May 9 to The Times-Journal &045;&045; but not, he says, before Toure first made a number of derogatory public comments about him and published an article in the Black Belt Journal that accuses Davis, among other things, of &uot;political race baiting.&uot;

Davis’ letter accuses Toure of &uot;breathtaking dishonesty&uot; in representing his position concerning the Voting Rights Act.

Toure insists it’s not personal, it’s business.

Section 5 requires the Justice Department to pre-approve any changes a state makes to its voting procedures.

Toure cites background information provided by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that quotes from testimony Pryor gave before the Senate Judiciary Committee in which he calls for the repeal or amendment of Section 5 and labels it &uot;an affront to federalism and an expensive burden that has far outlived its usefulness.&uot;

Such testimony notwithstanding, Pryor dismisses criticism that he does not support the Voting Rights Act as &uot;unfair.&uot;

Pryor, who is white, is not alone in that assessment. Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who is black, calls Section 5 &uot;a grave intrusion into the authority of the states.&uot;

Davis says that while he does not entirely agree with the substance of Pryor’s position, he adds, &uot;If we don’t criticize the black attorney general of Georgia for his stance on the Voting Rights Act, we shouldn’t criticize the white attorney general of Alabama for his.&uot;

The color of the person making such statements is not the issue, Toure counters. At issue is Pryor’s &uot;judicial temperament.&uot;

Toure insists that hers is not &uot;a black position,&uot; that even such establishment icons as The Washington Post have editorialized against Pryor’s nomination, deeming him &uot;unfit to judge.&uot;

Davis concedes that while there is &uot;plenty of room for disagreement&uot; concerning Pryor’s nomination, he argues that Pryor has served as a moderating force within the Republican Party.

Davis notes that during Pryor’s term as attorney general he has resisted repeated calls to use the Voting Rights Act to embark on a series of prosecutions against black candidates for alleged election fraud &uot;despite sizeable political pressure to do so.&uot;

He adds that Pryor has even gone to court to defend the racial makeup of the 7th Congressional District &045;&045; his own district.

Toure says that in many ways the judicial temperament of those who sit on the federal courts is even more important than the racial makeup of the elected bodies that pass our laws.

Much of the progress in civil rights in days past was accomplished through the direct intervention of the courts, she argues. If that progress is to continue, she adds, it will depend on those same courts.