So much for the separation of powers

An anti-abortion judge never confirmed by the U.S. Senate could cast the deciding vote in the Schiavo case.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 23, 2005 8:04PM (EST)

A federal judge who is a hard-core opponent of abortion rights could cast the deciding vote in the case of Terri Schiavo -- despite the fact that he has never been confirmed by the United States Senate.

After one of their lawyers said they'd be taking their case directly to the nation's highest court, the parents of Terri Schiavo have instead asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to review the decision released this morning by a three-judge panel of the court. That gets Anthony Kennedy off the hook for now -- one way or another, his turn will come soon enough -- but it could shift the spotlight to a much more controversial judge: William Pryor.

George W. Bush nominated Pryor to a seat on the 11th Circuit in April 2003, but Democrats twice prevented his nomination from coming to a floor vote in the Senate. Their primary concern: The former attorney general of Alabama is deeply hostile to abortion rights. Pryor has called Roe v. Wade the "worst abomination of constitutional law in our history," and he has described the day that Roe was decided as the day "seven members of our highest court ripped the Constitution and ripped out the life of millions of unborn babies."

Although Pryor hasn't been confirmed by the Senate, he sits on the 11th Circuit anyway; frustrated by Democrats' efforts to block the nomination, Bush placed Pryor on the court last February, when Congress was on an 11-day break. Last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear three challenges to Pryor's recess appointment. Thus, barring any further legal challenges, he'll remain on the 11th Circuit bench through the end of this year. Meanwhile, Bush has re-nominated him for a lifetime appointment.

Pryor wasn't on the three-judge panel that issued this morning's 11th Circuit decision. But now that Schiavo's parents have asked the 11th Circuit to reconsider that ruling en banc, Pryor has the right to weigh in on whether the full court should do so and, if it does, what the outcome should be. If Pryor provides a critical vote in favor of Schiavo's parents and the religious right, count on Senate Democrats to go ballistic long before Senate Republicans have the chance to go nuclear.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

George W. Bush War Room