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PLN associate editor's editorial about Puryear judicial nomination

Tennessean, Jan. 1, 2008.
PLN associate editor's editorial about Puryear judicial nomination - Tennessean 2008

May 3, 2008

Gus Puryear is a poor choice for federal judicial appointment


Tennessee Voices

Several recent editorials, including an April 13 opinion piece by former Sen. Bill Frist, have expressed support for the federal judicial nomination of Gustavus A. Puryear IV, general counsel for Corrections Corp. of America (CCA).

Mr. Frist decried political bickering over Mr. Puryear's nomination, and, indeed, it would be laudable if politics played no part in judicial selections. But as former Sen. Frist knows from his own partisan positions on judicial nominees, the process is rife with politics.

In addition to having worked for Mr. Frist, Mr. Puryear was employed by Sen. Fred Thompson during an investigation into Democrat campaign finances. He also served as a debate adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, and has been described as a "Republican heavyweight." According to a 2004 report, 96 percent of the campaign contributions made by CCA, Mr. Puryear's employer, went to Republican candidates.

So how is Mr. Puryear's nomination not political in nature? In fact, political payback is a reasonable explanation for why Mr. Puryear is now a judicial nominee. It certainly wasn't his trial or courtroom experience.

By his own admission, Mr. Puryear has been personally involved in only four or five federal cases and has taken only two cases to trial over his entire legal career. He has never handled a federal appeal, and he has not personally litigated a case in the past decade.

An April 28 article in the National Law Journal described Mr. Puryear's nomination as one of only two that have "vocal opposition." Where is that opposition coming from? Not from just one group, but from the National Lawyers Guild, the National Organization for Women, the National Council of Women's Organizations, AFSCME (one of the nation's largest labor unions, which represents public employees), the Alliance for Justice and other civil rights organizations.

These varied groups would not take positions against Mr. Puryear's nomination if they did not have serious concerns as to whether he should serve on the federal bench.

On the flip side, Mr. Puryear's supporters note that he received a "qualified" rating by the American Bar Association. However, during this Congressional term the ABA has rated 75 percent of judicial nominees as "well qualified"; thus, Mr. Puryear ranks in the bottom 25 percent.

Further, almost all of Mr. Puryear's supporters have financial or business ties to his employer, CCA, either through stock ownership or client relationships.

A CCA spokesperson has criticized opposition to Mr. Puryear's nomination as being part of a larger campaign against for-profit prisons. While his employment with CCA is one of many factors, the bottom line is that Mr. Puryear lacks the experience and qualifications necessary to serve as a federal judge, whether he works for CCA or any other company.

In terms of politics, Mr. Puryear would be unqualified whether he was a Democrat or a Republican, or whether he was nominated by President Bush or former President Clinton.

For more information about Mr. Puryear's contested judicial nomination, please visit