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When the Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved the nomination of D. Brooks Smith to the U.S. Court of Appeals, the far-left suddenly had a lot more on its plate. They thought they could move on and trash the next nominee on their target list – now they have to get Senate Democrats to filibuster Judge Smith at the same time.
The next target is probably Priscilla Owen, a member of the Texas Supreme Court nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. She was one of the first 11 nominees sent to the Senate on May 9, 2001, and one of the eight still waiting for a Judiciary Committee hearing.
Americans know two things about judicial vacancies: there are too many of them and Senate Democrats no longer care about them. Vacancies remain higher than on inauguration day – Chief Justice William Rehnquist says the situation is “alarming.” The judiciary’s administrative office labels the position to which Justice Owen has been nominated a “judicial emergency” because it has been open since Jan. 23, 1997. Just two years ago, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy singled out the Fifth Circuit and said, “vacancies on the courts of appeals around the country are particularly acute.” He still won’t grant Justice Owen a hearing.
With 17 years of private law practice and eight years of judicial service, Justice Owen was rated “well qualified” by the liberal American Bar Association. Justice Owen was re-elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 2000 with 83 percent of the vote, without opposition, and with the endorsement of every major state newspaper. The Houston Chronicle has praised her “proper balance of judicial experience, solid legal scholarship and real-world know-how.”
You’d think it would be a slam-dunk, but the traditional standards no longer apply. Judicial appointments are not about qualifications but about ideology. That means one thing – whether a nominee will rule the “correct” way on key issues, especially abortion. Abortion advocates claim that Justice Owen’s record shows “extreme hostility to reproductive rights.” Since she has neither litigated the issue as a lawyer nor ruled on it as a judge, this claim shows just how extreme the far-left has become in its campaign to hijack the judiciary.
No one knows Justice Owen’s position on abortion. All we know is that the Texas Supreme Court for two years applied the state’s new law prohibiting abortions without parental notification. “Abortion rights” was not an issue. The only issue was what the statute meant, which was how much room the legislature created for children seeking an abortion to bypass their parents.
The majority created standards easier for minors to meet than the legislature intended. Justice Owen and the minority took the legislature more seriously – they assumed that a statute intended to encourage parental involvement should actually do so. Justice Owen knew that she was a judge, not a legislator. If abortion advocates want to isolate young girls from their parents in making abortion decisions, they should take their case to the legislature. Justice Owen should be praised for trying to follow the law, not attacked for refusing to change it.
Knowing the abortion argument has nothing but raw partisan ideology behind it, Plan B is to question her integrity. Justice Owen’s opponents suggest that she tilts her decisions to favor corporations, such as Enron, that have contributed to her judicial campaigns. Sen. Leahy has even claimed that “Republicans” (he won’t identify them or say if they are even senators) are worried about this.
State court judges in Texas run for election and may solicit and accept campaign contributions. They are not required to step aside every time a contributor appears before them. Justice Owen received $8,600 in 1994 from the Enron employees’ PAC and a few employees, a small drop in the $1.2 million pool she raised from more than 3,000 contributors. Seven of the nine current Texas Supreme Court members have received Enron-related contributions, some more than Justice Owen.
Justice Owen’s votes in Enron-related court proceedings are evenly split for and against the corporation’s interests. The one opinion she wrote was a 1996 decision giving all Texas corporations, not just Enron, a choice of dates on which to calculate their assets for property-tax purposes. It’s a mystery how a few thousand dollars two years earlier twisted the mind of Justice Owen and other colleagues on such an issue. The lawyer representing the losing party has said criticism of Justice Owen is “nonsense.”
Forcing filibusters they once condemned and trying to turn another well-qualified nominee into an unethical “right-wing extremist” shows that the far-left has gone too far.