With all the controversy surrounding the Senate’s handling of President Bush’s circuit court nominees, we shouldn't forget about district court nominees like Gustavus Puryear .
Mr. Puryear, nominated to the Middle District of Tennessee, has relatively minimal court experience. He has spent the majority of his career serving as the Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and his tenure there raises serious red flags about his suitability to hold a federal judgeship.
CCA, headquartered in Nashville, TN is the largest private prison company in the country. In fact, it runs the fifth largest corrections system in the nation – only the federal prison system and those of three states are larger. In addition to conflict of interest and recusal issues that would naturally raise administrative concerns, it is Mr. Puryear's leadership of CCA’s legal department that is truly troubling.
Since its creation in 1983, CCA has faced widespread allegations of abuse and misconduct regarding the treatment of its prisoners. Mr. Puryear has acknowledged that as General Counsel to the company he bears the “ultimate responsibility” for defending CCA in all lawsuits, which according to his own testimony “typically stands between 700 and 1100 at any given time.” One of these cases involved a 34-year-old female prisoner who died after what the medical examiner suggested was a violent beating. When asked about this case during his hearing, Mr. Puryear refused to go into specifics but attempted to provide several explanations that were contrary to the findings of the medical examiner.
Frustrated with the opposition Mr. Puryear’s nomination has faced in the Senate Judiciary Committee, his former employer Dr. Bill Frist (formerly a senator from Tennessee as well as Senate majority leader), wrote an editorial in the Tennessean defending his former protégé. In his article, Dr. Frist claimed that “Gus enjoys broad bipartisan support within Nashville and in Washington” and that “despite the fact that the American Bar Association unanimously rated Gus qualified to be a U.S. district judge, some political-interest groups have criticized him.” Hmmm…
The Nashville Scene, which has written several articles about the controversy surrounding Mr. Puryear’s nomination, responded to the former senator’s claims in a piece titled “Confederacy of Dunces.” In it, the paper’s editorialists rightly point out that the “bipartisan” support that Dr. Frist alludes to is composed almost entirely of lawyers who work with CCA, including Thurgood Marshall, Jr., who happens to serve on CCA’s board of directors. As to the ABA rating, Mr. Puryear did not receive their highest rating of “well-qualified.” Furthermore, the ABA does not evaluate ideology – a critical question when it comes to the nomination of a federal judge, and one that the Senate and the American people should rightly consider.
Mr. Puryear's nomination is problematic, to say the least. Find out more by reading Alliance for Justice’s full report on Gustavus Puryear, or see our fact sheet on his nomination.