WASHINGTON — Well-known attorney Jay Sekulow, who serves as chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which takes up cases for conservative, pro-life and pro-family causes, expressed his support on national television this week for two of the picks on President-elect Donald Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist—Judges Diane Sykes and Bill Pryor—stating that they have a “proven track record.”
However, others have voiced concern about the judges precisely because of their track record, which includes Sykes’ favorable Planned Parenthood ruling calling abortion “a right” and Pryor’s prosecution of “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore. Reports state that both Sykes and Pryor are “top contenders” on Trump’s Supreme Court list.
Sekulow had been interviewed on Tuesday’s Fox & Friends regarding the more than 100 court vacancies Trump currently will have to fill as president, as well as whether he agrees that Trump should not compromise in his Supreme Court pick, but choose someone who is “hard right.”
“I look at some of the potential nominees like Bill Pryor from the 11th Circuit, Diane Sykes and others—these are judges that have a proven track record, they have a proven judicial philosophy, and there’s no reason not to select a nominee,” Sekulow, who works out of Pat Robertson’s Regent University and in Washington, said on Tuesday’s “Fox & Friends.”
“First of all, we’re replacing the late great Justice Antonin Scalia, so this is Scalia’s seat; it needs to be someone in that judicial mold,” he continued. “There’s no need to compromise. I think this is you got to go full bore. The list is very strong that President-elect Trump put forward, and we should not hesitate in working these nominations through, period. I don’t there should be any discussion about that … It should be non-negotiable.”
View Sekulow’s comments in full here.
But conversely, Andrew Schlafly, the son of the late Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum and likewise an attorney, has been working to create a coalition of 70+ groups to urge Trump to take Sykes off his list of Supreme Court picks.
“Diane Sykes has a pro-choice record,” Schlafly contended during a strategy call earlier this month. “I don’t know why she’s even on the list.”
He recently sent a letter to Trump over the matter, which included dozens of co-signers, including Ambassador Faith Whittlesey of the Trump Advisory Committee, Michelle Cretella of the American College of Pediatricians, Michael Robb of the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, Bobby Schindler of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, Janet Porter of Faith2Action, Mark Harrington of Created Equal and many others.
“Several of these judges on [your] list have even written or spoken in ways that are at odds with the pro-life position,” it read in part. “Candidates who lack a pro-life record include, for example, Judges Diane Sykes, Steven Colloton, Raymond Kethledge, and Neil Gorsuch, and Justices Allison Eid and Joan Larsen. In addition, each of these judges has either ruled against the pro-life position or has otherwise shown an unwillingness to be publicly pro-life.”
Read the letter in full here.
As previously reported, Trump had mentioned both Sykes and Pryor in February as potential nominees following the sudden death of Antonin Scalia.
“We could have a Diane Sykes or a Bill Pryor,” he said. “We have some fantastic people.”
7TH CIRCUIT JUDGE DIANE SYKES
Sykes was nominated to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals by then-President George W. Bush. In 2013, she wrote the majority opinion in a case that barred the state of Indiana from defunding Planned Parenthood.
“[The Supreme] Court has explained that the constitutional right to obtain an abortion is a right against coercive governmental burdens; the government may not ‘prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy’ before fetal viability or impose an ‘undue burden on a woman’s ability to make this decision,'” she noted in her writings.
“As long as the difference in treatment does not unduly burden a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, the government is free to treat abortion providers differently,” she said.
While Sykes and her colleagues did not find the Indiana law to be a “burden” on the “right” to abortion, she still concluded that Indiana should not be permitted to defund Planned Parenthood because it would interfere with a woman’s choice to select the organization as her provider.
“The defunding law excludes Planned Parenthood from Medicaid for a reason unrelated to its fitness to provide medical services, violating its patients’ statutory right to obtain medical care from the qualified provider of their choice,” she wrote.
In 1993, while serving as a trial judge, Sykes also sentenced two abortion protestors to 60 days in jail for seeking to shut down an abortion facility, while also reportedly telling them, “I do respect you a great deal for having the courage of your convictions and for the ultimate goals that you sought to achieve by this conduct.”
11TH CIRCUIT JUDGE BILL PRYOR
Bill Pryor, the former attorney general of Alabama, is most known for his prosecution of Roy Moore in 2003 over his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court. Pryor’s comments to Moore during his trial focused more on Moore’s refusal to stop acknowledging God as chief justice.
“[Y]our understanding is that the federal court ordered that you could not acknowledge God; isn’t that right?” Pryor asked. “And if you resume your duties as chief justice after this proceeding, you will continue to acknowledge God as you have testified that you would today?”
“That’s right,” Moore replied.
“No matter what any other official says?” Pryor asked.
“Absolutely,” Moore stated. “Let me clarify that. Without an acknowledgment of God, I cannot do my duties. I must acknowledge God. It says so in the Constitution of Alabama. It says so in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It says so in everything I have read.”
As Moore continued to stand his ground, he was ordered by Pryor to be “removed from his position of Supreme Court justice of Alabama.”
The same year, Pryor was nominated by then-President George W. Bush to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. During his confirmation hearing, he advised that although he personally believes that abortion is “morally wrong,” he would not seek to overturn Roe v. Wade as a federal judge.
“[M]y record as attorney general shows that I am able to put aside my personal beliefs and follow the law, even when I strongly disagree with it, to look carefully at precedents and to do my duty,” he advised.
“So even though you disagree with Roe v. Wade, you would act in accordance with Roe v. Wade on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals?” asked Sen. Orrin Hatch.
“Even though I strongly disagree with Roe v. Wade, I have acted in accordance with it as attorney general and would continue to do so as a court of appeals judge,” he said.
When questioned further by a skeptical Sen. Chuck Schumer about the matter, Pryor outlined that he had urged a colleague to refrain from seeking to overturn Roe, advising him not to “present that question to the [Supreme] Court.”
Pryor was also a part of an appeals court opinion in 2011 that refused relief to a Christian woman who had been forced out of her counseling studies at Augusta State University after she declined to go through a “remediation program” that included sensitivity training and attending homosexual pride events.