William H. Pryor Jr.

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Bill Pryor
Portrait of US federal judge William H. Pryor, Jr.jpg
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Assumed office
February 20, 2004
Appointed by George W. Bush
Preceded by Emmett Cox
Attorney General of Alabama
In office
January 3, 1997 – February 20, 2004
Governor Fob James
Don Siegelman
Bob Riley
Preceded by Jeff Sessions
Succeeded by Troy King
Personal details
Born William Holcombe Pryor Jr.
(1962-04-26) April 26, 1962 (age 54)
Mobile, Alabama, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Kristan Wilson
Alma mater University of Louisiana,

Tulane University

William Holcombe "Bill" Pryor Jr. (born April 26, 1962) is a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and a Commissioner on the United States Sentencing Commission.[1] Previously, he was the Attorney General of the State of Alabama from 1997 to 2004.


Born in Mobile, Alabama, to William Holcombe Pryor Sr. and his wife, Laura Louise (née Bowles), Pryor was raised in a devoutly Roman Catholic family. He and his siblings attended McGill–Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile. He earned his B.A. from Northeast Louisiana University in 1984 (now University of Louisiana, Monroe) and his J.D. from Tulane University Law School in 1987, where he served as editor in chief of the Tulane Law Review.

Legal career[edit]

Pryor served as a law clerk to Judge John Minor Wisdom of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1987 to 1988. Pryor worked as a private attorney from 1988–1995, serving as adjunct professor of maritime law at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University from 1989–1995. Pryor currently teaches federal jurisdiction at the University of Alabama School of Law[2] and statutory interpretation at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.[3]

Political career[edit]

From 1995–1997, he served as Alabama's deputy attorney general. He became the state's Attorney General in 1997. He was, at that time, the youngest state attorney general in the United States. Pryor was elected in 1998 and reelected in 2002. At reelection, Pryor garnered nearly 59% of the vote, the highest percentage of any statewide candidate.[citation needed]

Pryor's legacy as attorney general has come under fire, however, from news organizations[4] and racial justice advocates.[5] Criticism has centered, in particular, on Pryor's refusal to reopen the case of Anthony Ray Hinton, an Alabama man who spent nearly 30 years on death row before his conviction was vacated by the United States Supreme Court. Hinton was released on April 3, 2015. Over thirteen years earlier, Pryor had rejected new evidence presented by Hinton's defense lawyers, stating that, "[the] experts did not prove Mr. Hinton's innocence and the state does not doubt his guilt."[6]

Pryor also received national attention in 2003 when he called for the removal of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who had disobeyed a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. Pryor said that although he agreed with the propriety of displaying the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, he was bound to follow the court order and uphold the rule of law. Pryor personally prosecuted Moore for violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, and the Alabama Court of the Judiciary unanimously removed Moore from office.[citation needed]

Eleventh Circuit nomination and confirmation[edit]

Pryor was nominated to the Eleventh Circuit by President George W. Bush on April 9, 2003 to fill a seat vacated by Judge Emmett Ripley Cox, who had assumed senior status. Originally, William H. Steele had been nominated to the seat in 2001, but his nomination had become stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee during the 107th United States Congress because African-American groups protested his decisions in two civil rights cases as a magistrate judge. His nomination was withdrawn in January 2003. Pryor was nominated as Steele's replacement.

Despite the fact that the 108th United States Congress was controlled by the Republican Party, Senate Democrats refused to allow Pryor to be confirmed, criticizing him as an extremist, citing statements he had made such as referring to the Supreme Court as "nine octogenarian lawyers" and saying that Roe v. Wade was the "worst abomination in the history of constitutional law."[7]

Due to a filibuster of his nomination, President George W. Bush installed Pryor as a circuit court judge on February 20, 2004 using a recess appointment to bypass the regular Senate confirmation process. Pryor resigned as Alabama's attorney general that same day and took his judicial oath for a term lasting until the end of 2006, when his appointment would have ended had he not been eventually confirmed.

On May 23, 2005 Senator John McCain announced an agreement between seven Republican and seven Democratic U.S. Senators, the Gang of 14, to ensure an up-or-down vote on Pryor and two other stalled Bush nominees, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. On June 9, 2005, Pryor was confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit by a vote of 53–45, and received his commission on June 10, 2005 and on June 20, 2005, he was sworn in at the age of 43.

Pryor was the only judge appointed to the Eleventh Circuit by President George W. Bush.[citation needed] He is on presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump's list of potential Supreme Court justices.[8]

Notable opinions[edit]

  • Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. v. Sec'y, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Servs. (11th Cir. 2014). In a unanimous order, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit enjoined the Secretary of HHS from enforcing the contraception mandate against Catholic television network EWTN. Judge Pryor specially concurred, explaining why, in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby, EWTN had shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The concurrence is particularly notable because Judge Pryor noted that he parted ways with decisions of the Sixth and Seventh Circuits on the subject "because the decisions of those courts are wholly unpersuasive."
  • In re Michael Morgan (11th Cir. 2013). Judge Pryor wrote an opinion for a unanimous panel denying an application to file a second or successive motion to vacate, set aside, or correct the federal sentence of Michael Morgan. Morgan, while still a juvenile, had been sentenced to life in prison under a mandatory sentencing scheme for his participation in a massive drug conspiracy involving a murder of another drug dealer, the attempted murder of Morgan's girlfriend to prevent her from reporting that murder, and the subsequent murder of a state trooper who had the misfortune of interrupting the attempted murder plot. The opinion explained that the Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __ (2012), that juveniles may not be sentenced to life imprisonment under a mandatory sentencing scheme had not been made retroactive by the Supreme Court to cases on collateral review. The Eleventh Circuit later voted not to review the decision en banc. In re Michael Morgan (11th Cir. 2013).
  • Walker v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (11th Cir. 2013). On behalf of a unanimous panel, Pryor rejected the due process challenge brought by R.J. Reynolds to the application, as res judicata, of the previous determinations on liability made by a Florida jury in an unorthodox class action against the tobacco companies in the 1990s. The panel concluded that it was required to give full faith and credit to the decision of the Florida trial court, as interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court and that the application of full faith and credit did not violate the tobacco company's due process rights because R.J. Reynolds had been given notice and an opportunity to be heard throughout the litigation. The opinion is particularly notable for a colorful paragraph at its conclusion discussing the intractable problem of tobacco litigation.
  • Day v. Persels & Associates (11th Cir. 2013). Pryor wrote the majority (2–1) opinion vacating a settlement award in a class action relating to debt-settlement services. The court concluded that the magistrate judge had subject-matter jurisdiction to approve the settlement because unnamed class members are not parties whose consent is required for adjudication by a magistrate judge. But the court also concluded that the magistrate judge had abused its discretion when it approved a settlement that provided no monetary relief to the class members because he found that the defendants could not pay such monetary relief, but no evidence supported that finding.
  • United States v. Bellaizac-Hurtado (11th Cir. 2012). Pryor wrote the majority (2–1) opinion reversing the convictions of four defendants for drug-trafficking in the territorial waters of Panama because the Act that criminalized their behavior exceeded the authority of Congress under the Offences against the Law of Nations Clause of the Constitution. The opinion is the first in-depth interpretation of the constitutional provision by a federal circuit court. Judge Rosemary Barkett specially concurred in the judgment.
  • United States v. Shaygan (11th Cir. 2011). Pryor wrote the majority (2–1) opinion vacating an award of over $600,000 in attorney's fees and costs against the United States and the public reprimand of two federal prosecutors. The court explained that the prosecution was objectively reasonable and did not warrant sanctions under the Hyde Amendment. The court also concluded that the district court had violated the due process rights of the federal prosecutors when it denied them notice of the charges and an opportunity to be heard. Pryor later wrote a statement respecting the denial of rehearing en banc of this opinion in United States v. Shaygan (11th Cir. Apr. 10, 2012).
  • First Vagabonds Church of God v. Orlando (11th Cir. 2011). Writing for a unanimous en banc court, Pryor rejected an as-applied challenge by Orlando Food Not Bombs to a municipal ordinance that restricted the frequency of its feedings of homeless persons in parks located within a 2 mile radius of the Orlando City Hall. The court assumed, without deciding, that the feeding of homeless persons constituted expressive conduct and determined that the ordinance, as applied to Orlando Food Not Bombs, constituted a reasonable time, place, or manner restriction and a reasonable regulation of expressive conduct.
  • In re United States (11th Cir. 2010). Pryor wrote the majority (2–1) opinion granting a writ of mandamus to substitute an Assistant Administrator of the EPA for the appearance of the Administrator in a case about the ecology of the Everglades. The panel explained that the district court had abused its discretion in ordering the appearance of the agency head and encroached on the separation of powers.
  • Scott v. Roberts (11th Cir. 2010). Pryor wrote for a unanimous panel reversing the district court and preliminarily enjoining the enforcement of a Florida law that provided a dollar-for-dollar subsidy to a candidate's opponent once that candidate exceeded a statutory expenditure limit. The panel concluded that Rick Scott, then-candidate in the Republican primary for the Governor of Florida, had made a substantial showing of likelihood of success on the merits because, even if the law served compelling state interests, the law was not the least restrictive means of serving those interests. Scott went on to win the Republican primary and the general election.
  • Common Cause/Georgia v. Billups (11th Cir. 2009). Pryor wrote for a unanimous panel upholding a Georgia law that required all registered voters in Georgia to present a government-issued photo identification to be allowed to vote in person. The law also required Georgia to issue, free of charge, a "Georgia voter identification card" to any registered Georgia voter who lacked an acceptable form of identification. The panel concluded that the NAACP and voters had standing to challenge the law, but that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to enjoin the law because the burdens on voters from the law were insignificant and the state had legitimate interests in preventing voter fraud.
  • Pelphrey v. Cobb County (11th Cir. 2008). Pryor wrote the majority (2–1) opinion, joined by Judge Charles R. Wilson, affirming the district court ruling that sectarian prayers used to open commission meetings did not violate the Establishment Clause as long as the prayer opportunity was not exploited to proselytize or to advance or disparage any particular faith or belief. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks dissented.
  • United States v. Campa, (11th Cir. 2008). Pryor wrote the majority (2–1) opinion, joined by Judge Birch, upholding the convictions of five Cuban spies ("The Cuban Five") for espionage.
  • Zibtluda LLC v. Gwinnett County, Georgia, (11th Cir. 2005). Opinion affirmed district court ruling that a local ordinance limiting the placement of adult entertainment establishments was constitutional. The opinion was notable for Pryor's quote of a line from The B-52's hit song "Love Shack" in describing the proposed establishment.

U.S. Sentencing Commission nomination and confirmation[edit]

President Barack Obama nominated Pryor to serve as a commissioner on the United States Sentencing Commission on April 15, 2013. Pryor had experience with sentencing issues and reform at the state level. During his tenure as Attorney General of the State of Alabama, he successfully led the effort to establish, by legislation, the Alabama Sentencing Commission. Pryor has written several law review articles about his experiences with sentencing reform. The Senate unanimously confirmed Pryor by voice vote on June 6, 2013, and he will serve a term that expires on October 31, 2017.[9] Pryor will continue to serve as an active judge on the Eleventh Circuit during his service on the Commission.


Pryor is married to Kristan Pryor; they have two adult daughters.

Pryor's father, William Holcombe Pryor Sr., is a former band director and now Roman Catholic deacon at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, his own alma mater and that of two of his four children.[10]

Published works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Sentencing Commission. "Bios of Commissioners". Retrieved 8 November 2013. 
  2. ^ University of Alabama. "Faculty Page". Retrieved 8 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Cumberland School of Law. "Adjunct Faculty Page". Retrieved 8 November 2013. 
  4. ^ Kyle Whitmire (April 3, 2015). "Alabama tried to kill a man who never should have been on death row." The Birmingham News. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  5. ^ (April 5, 2015). "When you punish an innocent Black Man with death, who is the criminal?" The Brown Watch. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  6. ^ Adam Liptak (February 24, 2003). "Experts Question Verdict, But the State Is Unmoved." The New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  7. ^ http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-108shrg91200/html/CHRG-108shrg91200.htm
  8. ^ COLVIN, JILL. "TRUMP UNVEILS LIST OF HIS TOP SUPREME COURT PICKS". Associated Press. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  9. ^ "Senate Confirms Three Sentencing Commissioners" (PDF). Retrieved 8 November 2013. 
  10. ^ McGill-Toolen Catholic High School-About McGill-Toolen

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Jeff Sessions
Attorney General of Alabama
Succeeded by
Troy King
Preceded by
Emmett Cox
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit