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Jewish World Review June 12, 2003 / 12 Sivan, 5763

Quin Hillyer

Quin Hillyer
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The Alabama ogre

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Character assassination and other slimeball tactics probably will be on full display today as leftist interest groups try to transform the humane and honest Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor into the image of an ogre.

Pryor -- a brilliant, popular, fair and progressive elected official -- is a presidential nominee for a judgeship on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing today to consider the nomination.

Arrayed against Pryor will be the usual witches' brew of hard-left pressure groups. First they will bludgeon the AG for a while with some harsh-sounding but readily refutable attacks from "gender group" activists. Then they'll bring out their big weapons, namely crutches, wheelchairs and oth er assorted medical paraphernalia wielded by disabled citizens mistakenly fearful of losing their rights.

Already, histrionic agitator Ralph Neas of the misnamed People for the American Way has gone way over the top in his denunciations of Pryor. According to Neas, Pryor has "amassed a staggering record of hostility toward the rights and interests of ordinary Americans" and has evidenced a "right-wing ideology that is far outside the mainstream of American legal thought."

Never mind that on virtually every issue for which Neas and his ilk will attack Pryor, the Ala bama AG advocates positions that were ruled correct by the U.S. Supreme Court. Leftists have every right to disagree with those positions -- but to say that these positions, which represent the current law of the land, are "out of the mainstream," and that a man with a proven public record of compassion is hostile to rights of ordinary Americans, is breathtakingly and sickeningly dishonest.

The Register editorial board already has explained the depth of calumny involved in the attacks on Pryor's legal positions on numerous other issues. So today just consider the biggest arrow in the leftist PR quiver. Pryor, say the character assassins, is hostile to the rights of the disabled.

For evidence, they will point to briefs filed by Pryor claiming that "sovereign immunity" protects states against lawsuits filed by disabled state employees.

Sovereign immunity is a complicated concept, but hardly a new or radical one. In effect, it means that a private party cannot sue a state for monetary damages -- money taken from the rest of the state's taxpayers -- without the state's consent, unless clearly provided for within the text and historical context of the Constitution.

That doesn't mean the aggrieved state worker has no options. Several other avenues are available to force a state to undo its alleged infraction. But a state's treasury -- from which the state provides its citizens all basic services such as education, police and prisons -- cannot be raided, to the detriment of all the other citizens, through the jackpot justice of a private lawsuit.

As a state attorney general, Pryor would be remiss if he did not try to protect all those taxpayer-funded services from a raid on the public purse.

And his position is neither radical nor "right-wing." Matter of fact, the first state AG in recent years to cite sovereign immunity was Florida's Bob Butterworth. (Seminole Tribe of Florida vs. Florida, 1996.) He's a liberal Democrat. Readers might remember him as the guy who fought tooth-and-nail to help Al Gore conjure up enough votes in Florida to snatch the presidency from George W. Bush. He's hardly a right-wing monster intent on stripping Americans of their rights.

More important, though, is that the country's founders clearly understood sovereign immunity to be part of the Constitution's very fabric. Wrote Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 81: "It is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent. This is the general sense and the general practice of mankind; and the exemption, as one of the attributes of sovereignty, is now enjoyed by the government of every State in the Union."

James Madison agreed, saying during the Virginia ratification convention, "It is not in the power of individuals to call any state into court."

At the same convention, John Marshall, who later was chief justice of the Supreme Court, said: "It is not rational to suppose that the sovereign power should be dragged before a court."

In the 1890 case of Hans vs. Louisiana, the Supreme Court reconfirmed that understanding. And when Pryor fought the case that's being used unfairly as evidence that he's somehow uncaring about the disabled community (Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama vs. Garrett, 2001), he was supported by attorneys general from seven other states, including that of historically Democratic Hawaii.

The Supreme Court ruled that Pryor was correct.

On every attack leveled against Bill Pryor, the story is much the same. Despite his long record to the contrary, for instance, some leftists accused him of being unconcerned with civil rights for African-Americans. That charge went out the window when it turned out that Pryor's position was the same as that advocated in a pending Supreme Court case by none other than the black, Democratic attorney general of Georgia, Thurbert Baker.

He was attacked for defending a state's anti-sodomy statute -- until it was noted that his legal position tracked an argument made years ago by liberal Supreme Court heroine Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The fact is that Pryor is a careful reader of the law who consistently bases his legal actions on long-accepted precedents and understandings. He may swim against the liberal tide on polarizing subjects -- but even so, he always remains well within the mainstream of constitutional jurisprudence.

The truly radical position of Pryor's adversaries is not to acknowledge that even the mainstream can have separate currents. They might not like the current that Bill Pryor has chosen. But for them to claim he's off on some random tributary is a damnable lie.


JWR contributor Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer for the Mobile Register. Comment by clicking here.


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