Pryor, 'Gang of 14' Senator, on Alito

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) met Thursday with Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. He also met with his fellow members of the "Gang of 14" — the group of centrist Senators who joined together to avoid a Senate rule-change over judicial nominees.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And we're joined by one of the seven Democratic members on that so-called Gang of 14. Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas joins us from a room just off the Senate floor.

Senator, thanks for being with us.

Senator MARK PRYOR (Democrat, Arkansas): Thank you. Thanks for having me today.

BLOCK: I understand you met with Judge Alito this afternoon. Can you tell us anything about what you talked about?

Sen. PRYOR: Well, sure. Judge Alito makes a very good first impression. It was a very constructive meeting. And I talked to him about my criteria that I use--that is, I look at first their qualifications; second, their judicial temperament; and, third, I try to make a judgment on whether they'll be fair and impartial.

BLOCK: Well, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Did you ask him about specific rulings that he's made in his time on the bench?

Sen. PRYOR: Well, I told him that given the fact we have just received his nomination over at the Senate this week, and given the fact that he has 15 years of opinions that he's written, I have not gone through them in enough detail to actually get down into the nitty-gritty with him. And so hopefully I can have another meeting. But we did talk about a lot of generalities, about his judicial philosophy and his background. And it was a very constructive meeting.

BLOCK: What did you learn about that philosophy?

Sen. PRYOR: Well, my sense is that certainly he's a conservative; we know that. And we don't expect anything else from President Bush. But my impression is that he will not be an activist judge; that's one thing I look at. Now I've not made that final determination yet. Certainly I need to look at his case law. I also need to listen very closely to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and I will not make up my mind till the very end. But one thing I did walk away from this first meeting, at least--is that he wouldn't be an activist.

BLOCK: And what was it specifically that he said that led you to think he would not be an activist judge?

Sen. PRYOR: Well, I pretty much just asked him, you know. We talked about it, and I told him that I felt like--there were clearly special interest groups out there who wanted activist judges on the bench, so that they could push their agenda, whatever it may be, onto the courts and onto the people that way, and I do feel strongly about that. But I think that we need judges to be adjudicators and not legislators, and, you know, that's part of the criteria that I look for to make sure they'll be fair and impartial.

BLOCK: I'd like to ask you about one of Judge Alito's rulings that's come under a great deal of scrutiny, and that was his dissent in a Pennsylvania abortion case, where Judge Alito upheld a provision of the law that would have required a married woman to notify her husband before she got an abortion. Did you talk about that dissent?

Sen. PRYOR: We did not talk about that at all. We didn't talk about the Casey decision or abortion or even the right to privacy today.

BLOCK: Would you be asking him about that during hearings, do you figure?

Sen. PRYOR: It's very possible. One thing that I believe very strongly in is that when we look at these US Supreme Court nominations, and really all judges for that matter, but most importantly on the US Supreme Court, I think we make a mistake if we just focus on one case or one area of the law or a few issues. I think we need to look at the judge as a whole and look at their possible career on the US Supreme Court.

BLOCK: If you consider what's supposed to be the Senate's role in advising and consenting on these nominations, what about advice on this nominee? Was it sought by the White House?

Sen. PRYOR: Well, that is a little bit of a disappointment because I feel like that, just in terms of practical politics but also in terms of accurately understanding what the US Constitution says, the president should seek our advice before he makes the nomination. I want to say out of all 14 members of the so-called Gang of 14, the White House reached out to one of the members in the Gang of 14. And my sense is they reached out to very few senators at all before they made this decision. Now, you know, that's their prerogative. That's up to them to do that. But the US Constitution does say that--`with the advice and consent of the Senate,' and my sense is in the plain meaning of that phrase, they probably should seek our advice on the front end and then get our consent on the hind end. I think if you do seek advice first, it's a lot easier to get consent later.

BLOCK: Well, Senator Pryor, thanks for talking with us.

Sen. PRYOR: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, a Democrat and member of the Gang of 14 Democrats and Republicans who met today on the Alito nomination.

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