Pryor’s confirmation may be just a matter of time

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Now the wait for the confirmation vote begins as the nomination of Southern Indiana District Court Magistrate Judge Doris Pryor to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has been sent to the U.S. Senate.

Although a vote has not been scheduled, observers believe Pryor’s confirmation is assured.

“She’s somebody who should get confirmed,” said John Collins Jr., visiting associate professor at George Washington University Law School. “I don’t know if it’ll happen before the August recess, but even if it takes until a lame duck session, I don’t think there’ll be anybody fighting that nomination.”

Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, was more direct.

“She should start thinking about the curtains she wants in her office,” Tobias said. “I think it’s over. … I don’t see any path to this coming unraveled for her.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed Pryor’s nomination to the full Senate on a 13-9 vote Thursday. With the upper chamber still in session and working to pass legislation Saturday, a vote on Pryor’s confirmation could be slipped in, according to Tobias.

Thursday, the Senate confirmed Arizona attorney Roopali Desai to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Desai appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 13 alongside Pryor, and her confirmation vote was taken ahead of seven other nominees who were ahead of her.

Tobias said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appears to be moving forward with judicial nominees who can easily get the votes to be confirmed. Pryor is someone who could garner the votes needed from the minority.

“Just her whole manner which was on display in the (committee) hearing is something that is appealing to people,” Tobias said. “She’s not snarly, she’s not nasty, she’s very user-friendly. I just think all that goes a long way with some Republicans.”

Pryor’s method for interpreting the Constitution was questioned during her confirmation hearing, with committee member Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, referencing remarks she made during a Constitution Day event at an elementary school. Her answer to that line of questioning was cited by committee ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, as the reason for his vote against her nomination.

Of the nine committee members who submitted written questions to Pryor following her appearance before the committee, seven included queries about constitutional interpretation and judicial philosophy.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, asked Pryor directly if she considered herself an originalist.

Pryor replied, “I have never applied a specific label related to a theory of constitutional interpretation to myself because as a federal judge, my responsibility is to follow the precedent established by the Supreme Court and 7th Circuit.”

Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, referenced the Constitution Day speech and gave Pryor the opportunity to explain how the Constitution can change over time.

Pryor responded, “When I stated that ‘we’ give the Constitution life, I was expressing our nation’s ideal that the people are sovereign and that the goal of American democracy is to have a government that is fair, just and responsive to its people.”

Collins said the conversation about constitutional interpretation has been largely one-sided, with Trump administration’s nominees talking openly about their adherence to originalism but Biden nominees being more circumspect. The professor said he sees a need for the latter to speak up about how they interpret the Constitution.

“I think if they started talking about it, it would build momentum, it would offer an alternative to originalism or strict constitutionalism or whatever the particular label that somebody uses,” Collins said. “(The Republicans) have completely co-opted the one true way of constitutional interpretation and by failing to offer an alternative, it just makes it seem (to the public), ‘Well, they must be right because what else is there?’”

Tobias pointed out that Grassley has used the constitutional interpretation argument for voting no on other nominees. The law professor concurred with Collins that while Republicans have been pretty consistent about originalism, it is one single view.

“It’s just not the only view there is of how to interpret the constitution or laws,” he said.

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