|Jessica M. Garrison, with Bill Pryor|
and Jeff Sessions
We are talking about U.S. Circuit Judge William H. "Bill" Pryor, who entered the spotlight in 2003 when he became President George W. Bush's controversial nominee to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor drew such strong opposition from Democrats, primarily because of his stance against abortion rights, that Bush was forced to make a recess appointment in February 2004. Among the issues at Pryor's confirmation hearing was his decision to schedule a family vacation to Disney World so as not to coincide with the park's "Gay Days" festivities.
Pryor's national profile recently became even stronger when President Obama inexplicably appointed him to a six-year term on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. By statute, the commission must be bipartisan, and at least three of its members must be federal judges. But of all the federal judges in the country, including Republican appointees from Democratic-leaning states, why would Obama choose Bill Pryor? Was it a favor to U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a long-time Pryor supporter?
In a recent newspaper interview, Jessica Garrison lists Bill Pryor as her "real-life hero" and calls him a "mentor" who has given her invaluable advice "since I was in college." (More on that interview in an upcoming post.) The relationship apparently started when Garrison worked as an intern in the attorney general's office under Sessions, and Pryor was one of his chief deputies. When Pryor ascended to the AG's position, Garrison worked for him in public relations and legislative affairs.
Many Alabamians probably assume that Pryor is based in Atlanta, home to the Eleventh Circuit. But he lives in Birmingham and is based at the Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse downtown, where he has an office on the ninth floor.
Pryor's profile, however, extends beyond the courthouse door. He is involved with a Birmingham-based ministry that has connections to the downtown law firm where Garrison serves in an "of counsel" position. And Pryor started the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which now is Garrison's primary employer.
That raises this question: Has Bill Pryor been involved in the maneuvering that apparently started with the Strange/Garrison affair, her divorce from Tuscaloosa city councilman Lee Garrison, and her effort to modify their custody agreement so she could take a job under Strange at the attorney general's office? More specifically, has Pryor been involved in the curious financial payments and peculiar real-estate transactions that are central to the Strange/Garrison saga?
Pryor is known as "the Johnny Appleseed" of the Federalist Society, the ultra-conservative legal group for which he started chapters in New Orleans and Birmingham. He also is known as a deeply religious sort who wears his Catholic faith for all to see.
If Bill Pryor is such a moral guy, why would he come anywhere near the mess that Luther Strange and Jessica Garrison have created? Besides that, what kind of mentor is Bill Pryor if one of his acolytes becomes ensnared in a scandal that involves an extramarital affair and other ugliness?
What about Pryor's ties to a Birmingham "ministry"--and why would he be involved in such an organization, given that he is a federal judge in a democracy that supposedly is based, in part, on a separation of church and state?
The Web site for the Fixed Point Foundation states that its mission is "to seek innovative ways to defend and proclaim the Gospel and to prepare Christians to do the same." Prominent among Fixed Point's speakers is Bill Pryor, and he has served as a debate moderator for the foundation.
Fixed Point's staff includes Will Hill Tankersley, a partner at Birmingham's Balch Bingham, as outside general counsel. The Balch firm happens to be where Jessica Garrison landed an "of counsel" position after having to give up her position in the attorney general's office in order to resolve a custody dispute.
To add to the intrigue, Garrison's primary job is with RAGA, which is an affiliate of the D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). As we noted in a previous post, Luther Strange has a habit of using RSLC as more or less a money-laundering organization:
We know that Strange takes hypocrisy on gambling issues to monumental dimensions. After all, this is the guy who has tried to shut down non-Indian gaming facilities, such as VictoryLand in Macon County and Center Stage Alabama in Houston County, while taking a $100,000 campaign contribution from the Poarch Creek casinos. This also is the guy who used the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) to help obscure the donation via a PAC-to-PAC transfer.
Federal judges have lifetime appointments, so the public and the press tend to think they are above scrutiny. But perhaps it's time to shine a spotlight on Bill Pryor's ties to the Luther Strange/Jessica Garrison mess.
In the meantime, here is Bill Pryor speaking at a 2007 Federalist Society symposium on morality and the law: