Tapped discusses the recent Senate Judiciary Committee flap over the charge that Senators who oppose Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor’s nomination to the 11th Circuit are anti-Catholic. I heard this story on NPR yesterday morning but forgot all about it.

I think the argument is interesting, although not as framed. The argument is that Pryor, a devout Catholic, is unfit for the bench because he has deeply held views against abortion and thinks Roe v. Wade “an abomination.” Pryor claims he would enforce the law, because it is the law, but many Senators are dubious.

Now, does this make those Senators anti-Catholic? No, of course not. But it does suggest that there is, in effect, an anti-Catholic, indeed, anti-devout Christian, litmus test for the bench in the minds of those Senators. How could a deeply religious–and observant–individual qualify under their rationale? A handful of those Senators are nominally Catholic themselves, but they’re demonstrably not devout given their willingness to ignore their Church’s doctrine.

(Hat tip: Kevin Drum)

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kristopher says:

    I don’t think it’s an anti-catholic bias. I think it’s exactly as you stated, he has said he will enforce the law. The question is whether or not this is really true. We don’t know.

    As I’ve been contending all along, I would much rather keep Mr. Pryor as our Attorney General then give him his first judicial post on a Federal Court of Appeals.

  2. James Joyner says:


    But the reason cited for why he’s unbelievable on this is his deeply held convictions on the matter. Now, true, this is essentially an ideological litmus test, as “bad” Catholics would qualify. But observant Catholics would automatically be disqualified.

  3. bdg says:

    Don’t you think the anti-catholic dust-up is a red herring for his fundraising problem?

  4. James Joyner says:

    Whose fundraising problem?

  5. Kristopher says:


    The Democrats have accused Pryor of lying about his fundraising activities for the Republican Attorney Generals Association.

    There’s no doubt it’s a red herring, but the fundraising is a red herring too. The Democrats knew they had the information and tried to catch him in a trap by asking him open-ended questions that might cause him to walk into a lie. It comes down to the fact that Democrats don’t trust Pryor to follow the law and not his religious principles. Senator Schumer made the point that he had voted for other judges who were Catholic, but who had a record of sticking to the law. The problem with Pryor is not that he has strong religious beliefs, but that he has no judicial record to prove that he can put those views aside in the face of conflict with the law.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Interesting–hadn’t heard that one.

  7. Steven says:

    One thing is certain: a truly devout Catholic, one who upholds the Church’s official position on abortion, is, by definition, unacceptable to the vast majority of Democrats.

    It is not ant-Catholic, per se, but it is wrapped up in the issue of who Pryor is religiously.

  8. Paul says:

    I don’t think it’s an anti-catholic bias. I think it’s exactly as you stated, he has said he will enforce the law. The question is whether or not this is really true. We don’t know.

    What you are saying is that we don’t know if he will enforce the law because he is catholic. And you say that is not bias?

    What the hell is it? Pastrami on Rye?

    If that were said of a gay person would it be bias?

    What if we said that no blacks could be on the court because they might no uphold the law. Would that be biased?

    geeze! If this ain’t a biased litmus test, I’m having a real hard time finding another way to describ it.

  9. Kristopher says:


    What I’m saying is that it has absolutely nothing to do with his being Catholic. It has to do with the fact that he has never been a judge at any level. There’s an awful lot to say that his personal beliefs have intruded on his official decisions in the past and whether or not he will decide based on the law or what he believes the law should be have not been determined.

    I personally believe he can, but I can certainly see why some would doubt that.

  10. Kevin Drum says:

    We Dems certainly believe Pryor is a nutcase, so the abortion thing might indeed be a red herring.

    However, I’m going to venture a guess that Democrats have confirmed many a devout Roman Catholic over the years. All you have to do is convince us that you’re going to uphold Roe v. Wade and other laws of the land regardless of your personal religious feelings.

    Given his record, we are indeed a bit skeptical of Pryor’s willingness to do that.

  11. James Joyner says:

    I lived in Alabama for a while under Pryor’s generalship and never found him to be nutty, even though I’m not religious. And there’s no evidence that he wouldn’t follow the law–especially as a judge. Attorney General is an elected office in Alabama and the vast majority of Alabama citizens are devout Evangelical Christians, so it’s not surprising that he makes the statements he does so freely.

  12. Kristopher says:

    He’s not nutty for an Attorney General from Alabama, but is he nutty for a jurist?

  13. Patrick says:

    So, only atheists and those with no moral convictions are allowed to be judges? So what if he opposes Roe v. Wade? What if someon in the 1800’s opposed slavery? Slavery was legal, but would an indivdual who opposed it be percived as unable to be a judge? You mean to tell me that because someone has a negative opinion of Roe V. Wade he is “biased.” Regardless of what you think about abortion Roe v. Wade is bad law. Very flawed.

    This whole thing is ridiculous. I can’t believe that it has come to this. We are arguing about a man’s fitness to be a judge because he opposes a law that has resulted in over 35 million unborn children being killed. This is crazy. Stop the world. I want to get off!

  14. Paul says:

    All you have to do is convince us that you’re going to uphold Roe v. Wade and other laws of the land regardless of your personal religious feelings.

    Are you as militant about asking blacks and gays this????

    This is religious harassment the likes you which YOU would be protesting loudly it it were applied to any other group.

    I seem to remember something recently about a double double standard standard.

    When you say that a Catholic has to reach a higher level because they are catholic, that sir, does not put you in a tenable situation.


    And besides Kevin, anyone who can say how they will rule BEFORE the case comes before them is patently unqualified. WHEN IN HISTORY was refusing to overturn a decision a requirment for serving?

    As Patrick accuratly points out, if that were the case we would still have slaves.

    AND O’Connor would be booted for her recent reversal of HERSELF!

    Not only are you on bigoted grounds, but you ain’t on legal grounds either.

  15. James Joyner says:


    I don’t think he is. Now, I haven’t sat in on the hearings and don’t know all the evidence here, I’m just going on what I knew about him when I was in state and having casually chatted with him a couple of times when he came to the university to speak.

    I think being a trial judge and an appelate judge are two totally different kettles of fish, so don’t see the former as a prerequisite for the second.

    And, again, I think being an elected official from Alabama and a US Appeals Court judge are totally different roles in which one would act totally differently.