"I've been arrested 27 times for civil rights causes," says Alabama State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a legendary African American lawmaker. "I was a field staff member on the SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. . . . I am the one who filed the lawsuit to remove the Confederate flag from the top of the state capitol. . . . I am the one who introduced the bill to make Martin Luther King's birthday a state holiday."
And, says Holmes, he now supports Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, a Republican, for a seat on the Atlanta-based federal appeals court.
"I strongly endorse him, 100 percent," Holmes told me. He has sent his endorsement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
That puts Holmes at odds with northern liberals on that committee, including Charles Schumer, N.Y., Edward Kennedy, Mass., and Richard Durbin, Ill.
At a hearing last week, Kennedy said Pryor's views on issues such as abortion and gay rights were "so extreme" he doubted he could be a fair judge. After asking Pryor if he still believed, as he once said, that Roe v. Wade was "the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law," Schumer was unappeased when the nominee said simply, "I do."
But it wasn't Pryor's views on Roe that attracted Holmes.
"He and I basically share a different opinion on the abortion issue," said Holmes. But, Holmes added, "he stood up for blacks in Alabama when white Democrats wouldn't stand up."
In 2000, Holmes sponsored a ballot measure to strip antiquated language from the Alabama constitution that banned interracial marriage. Whites of both parties evaded the issue. "Few politicians have even mentioned the measure," reported The New York Times two days before the election.
Pryor was an outspoken supporter.
"He was the only white person, public officeholder, in the state of Alabama, who would publicly support it," said Holmes. In a state that is 25 percent black, the measure passed by only 59 percent to 41 percent.
In the committee, Durbin challenged Pryor for supporting "states rights," which Durbin called "the shelter that people who want to practice discrimination rush to."
While defending federalism, Pryor said: "There is no doubt, in the history of the United States, from John C. Calhoun to George C. Wallace, the mantra of states rights has been used as an illegitimate defense of evil, frankly; of racial discrimination in more modern times, and slavery in earlier times."
Chris McNair is another black Alabamian who has witnessed Pryor's sincerity on this issue.
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