William Holcombe Pryor Jr (born April 26, 1962 in Mobile) is a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, a member of the United States Sentencing Commission, and former Attorney General of Alabama.
Pryor is the son of William and Laura Bowles Pryor of Mobile. He graduated from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, where his father had served as band director and deacon. He earned a bachelor of arts at Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe in 1984 and a juris doctorate from Tulane University Law School in 1987, having served as the chief editor of the Tulane Law Review.
He spent a year as a clerk for Judge John Minor Wisdom of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit before entering private practice in Birmingham. Between 1988 to 1995 he practiced with the firms of Walston, Stabler, Wells, Anderson & Bains and Cabaniss, Johnston, Gardner, Dumas & O'Neal. He also joined the faculty of Samford University's Cumberland School of Law as an adjunct professor of maritime law and later taught federal jurisdiction at the University of Alabama School of Law as a visiting lecturer.
In 1995 Pryor was appointed a deputy Attorney General of Alabama and was promoted to fill the vacancy left by Jeff Session's election to the United States Senate. At the time, he was the youngest state attorney general in the nation. He was elected as the incumbent on the Republican ticket in the 1998 general election and re-elected, with 59% of the vote, in 2002.
While in office, Pryor established the Alabama Sentencing Commission to maintain fair and effective standards for sentencing those convicted under state criminal law. His 2003 refusal to entertain new defense evidence in the 1985 murder conviction of Anthony Ray Hinton was controversial. The conviction was later vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court. That same year, Pryor spoke out against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore's refusal to comply with a federal court order to remove a monument to the "ten commandments" from the Alabama Judicial Building. His office prosecuted the matter before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary which removed Moore from the court.
President George W. Bush nominated Pryor to take the seat left by the retirement of Emmett Cox on the 11th Circuit following a long period of inaction in the Judiciary Committee on Bush's previous nominee, William H. Steele. Democrats opposed the nomination and filibustered, but Bush bypassed confirmation by using a recess appointment to install him on February 20, 2004 for a term to end in December 2006. Pryor resigned from his state position and was sworn in that same day. In May 2005 the Senate agreed to an up-or-down vote on three nominations, including the continuation of Pryor's term for life. He was confirmed by a 53-45 vote on June 9 and given his commission the following day. Governor Bob Riley appointed his legal adviser, Troy King to complete the remainder of his term.
Among his notable opinions on the 11th Circuit, Pryor authored the 2-1 opinion in a 2008 ruling that prayers held before the meetings of the Cobb County Commission did not violate the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment so long as the Commission did not "exploit" the "prayer opportunity" to advance a particular religion. He also wrote the unanimous opinion in a 2009 ruling that a Georgia law requiring voters to show identification at the polls, but also provided a means for free voter ID cards to those lacking other admissible forms of ID, was constitutional because the "insignificant" burden on voters did not outweigh the "legitimate" interest of the state in preventing voter fraud. (Common Cause/Georgia v. Billups). In 2011, Pryor authored a unanimous ruling that presumed the feeding of homeless people by a political group to be an exercise of the 1st Amendment's protection of freedom of expression, but decided that the Orlando law restricting such feedings to specific times and places was a reasonable regulation of expressive conduct permitted by the Constitution. (First Vagabonds Church of God v. Orlando)
Pryor wrote a precedent-setting interpretation of the clause in Article I of the U.S. Constitution granting Congress the power to "define and punish...Offences against the Law of Nations." In that November 2012 ruling, the court reversed the convictions of four accused drug traffickers by finding that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority in passing the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act. Specifically, the court found no custom of treating drug trafficking as a crime under international law. (United States v. Bellaizac-Hurtado). Pryor differed with parallel findings of the 6th and 7th circuits to rule in 2014 that the Catholic broadcaster EWTN should not be forced to comply with the contraception mandate for employer-provided health insurance coverage in the Affordable Care Act (Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. v. Sec'y, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Servs.)
On April 15, 2013 President Barack Obama nominated Pryor to serve a 4-year term on the United States Sentencing Commission. He was unanimously confirmed by a voice vote of the Senate on June 6, 2013. Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, Pryor was mentioned as a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court by leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Pryor and his wife, the former Kristan Wilson, have two daughters.
|Attorney General of Alabama
|Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit
- "William Pryor". Biographical Directory of Federal Judges
- Liptak, Adam (February 24, 2003) "Experts Question Verdict, But the State Is Unmoved" The New York Times - accessed January 26, 2016