On William Pryor's Nomination to the 11th Circuit

Received via e-mail from an accomplished Miami criminal defense attorney on the nomination of William Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals:

My concern is not that General Pryor lacks intellect. He is conservative in his political and personal views, but that alone is not a basis for opposing his nomination. What troubles me profoundly is his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 27, 2001, in opposition to the Innocence Protection Act.
In the course of his prepared remarks, General Pryor differentiated between judges and prosecutors on the one hand, and criminal defense attorneys on the other, in the following terms: "Judges are independent. For that matter, so are prosecutors whose ethical duty, in contrast with defense attorneys, is to pursue truth and justice." As a former prosecutor, I recall being taught by my then-boss Janet Reno (at the time, state attorney for Miami-Dade County) that it was a prosecutor's duty to prefer justice to conviction, but a defense attorney's duty to prefer acquittal to justice. It seems to me, however, that Ms. Reno's lesson was offered in a very different spirit than Pryor's testimony. Pryor's remarks impress me as those of someone who is appallingly naive and uninformed about the criminal justice process as it exists, and who proceeds upon his own preconceptions about "good guys and bad guys."

It gets worse. Pryor assured the Senate Judiciary Committee that innocent people simply aren't executed in America. This is such a startling statement, and one so demonstrably false, that it calls into question the judgment and character of the speaker. In support of this baseless allegation, Pryor quotes Prof. Paul Cassell of the University of Utah -- about the only person who would make such a supposititious remark.

Prof. Cassell, you will recall, has devoted the recent years of his life to persuading the Supreme Court (most recently in Dickerson) to abandon Miranda. His dogmatic politics and jurisprudence are too much even for the present, very conservative Court. They are, however, not too much for Pryor. (As Pryor's prepared statement reflects, Cassell's quote appears in a National Law Journal article entitled, "66% Error Rate Found in Death Case Study: Author Calls Serious Problems 'Epidemic'" -- didn't this suggest something to Pryor?).
That an attorney general of a southern state in this day and age would take the position before Congress that the death penalty is laudable, in part because there are no innocent imprisoned, strikes me as disentitling that attorney general from elevation to the United States Court of Appeals.
Our prior posts on Pryor are here and here. Sam Heldman at Ignatz has been covering the Pryor nomination since the beginning. Here's his latest. People for the American Way has more on Pryor's troubling record .
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