In her tenure on the Texas Supreme Court, Owen has written or joined a number of dissents that would have effectively rewritten or disregarded the law, usually to the detriment of ordinary citizens, including in cases dealing with discrimination and employee rights, environmental issues and public information rights, and consumer and citizen rights. Owen was questioned about her disturbing record on these issues at her first hearing, but her testimony did not dispel the concerns that her record had raised.
PFAW Press Release: Alberto Gonzales v. Priscilla Owen; Alberto Gonzales’ criticism of Priscilla Owen on the Texas Supreme Court bench covers her right-wing judicial activism on a wide range of issues
The Senate is debating the nomination of Priscilla Owen to a federal appeals court seat and Senate Republicans may try to force a vote this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected her last year, and her re-nomination by President Bush is unprecedented. Read PFAW’s report about why the committee was right to reject this judicial activist then, and why the Senate should do so again.
Much of Owen’s second hearing centered around an attempt by Senator Hatch and several of his Republican colleagues to dispel the conclusion evident from Justice Owen’s record that she is a right-wing judicial activist, a conclusion that played a significant role in the Judiciary Committee’s rejection of Owen’s confirmation.
In an effort to rehabilitate Owen’s failed nomination, Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch held another hearing for Justice Owen on March 13, 2003, even though he acknowledged that she had received a full and fair hearing last July. At the March 13 hearing, Senator Hatch, several other Republican senators, and Justice Owen tried to explain away three serious concerns that helped lead to the rejection of her nomination: the criticism by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and other Bush appointees to the Texas Supreme Court of a number of Owen’s frequent dissents and attempts at judicial activism; Owen’s judicial activism in attempting to impose additional barriers on the exercise of the right to reproductive choice; and Owen’s frequent dissents and efforts at judicial activism in favor of corporate and other interests in cases in which the majority had protected the rights of consumers and other citizens. As with her first hearing last year, however, the March 13 hearing failed to resolve, and instead reinforced, these serious concerns.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, frustrated that Democratic senators are resisting his effort to push President Bush’s appeals court nominees onto the bench with minimal scrutiny, is increasingly abusing the power of his chairmanship to flagrantly violate or unilaterally change longstanding committee rules and bipartisan agreements that govern the Judiciary Committee’s deliberative process
In the past, Hatch has been a fervent supporter of the Senate’s “blue slip” policy, which has allowed home-state senators who object to a judicial nominee to delay action in the Judiciary Committee by not returning a nominee’s “blue slip” to the committee. As American Prospect has noted, “it was Hatch, in 1995, who hardened the blue-slip policy to allow a single senator to block a nomination indefinitely.” Indeed, Sen. Hatch made his blue slip policy explicit in 1998 by stating on the blue slips themselves that “[n]o further proceedings on this nominee will be scheduled until both blue slips have been returned by the nominee’s home state senators.” Now, however, Hatch has apparently declared a new policy saying that even though a senator’s decision not to return a blue slip would be given great weight, it would not be allowed to prevent Hatch from moving nominees he wants to move. “In other words,” says Hatch, “we can go ahead with certain nominees where you might have a withheld blue slip.” Sen. Barbara Boxer in particular has objected to proceeding on controversial nominee Carolyn Kuhl, regarding whom Boxer has not returned her blue slip, but indications from Hatch are that he will proceed on the nomination, in blatant contradiction of his own policy.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch has scheduled a second hearing on Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, whose nomination to the federal appeals court was rejected by the Judiciary Committee in September after a public hearing at which her record was fully scrutinized at length by senators from both parties. Hatch has described the hearing scheduled for Thursday, March 13, as an opportunity to “set the record straight” on Owen’s record.
Refusing to cave in to intense pressure from the White House and Republican leaders, Democratic senators rejected an effort to force a vote on the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This is a major victory for for PFAW and the tens of thousands of members and online supporters who contacted their senators.