2nd Hearing Confirms Case Against Priscilla Owen

A Report by People For the American Way
March 25, 2003
Ralph G. Neas


In January, President Bush renominated Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, even though Owen’s confirmation had been rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee last September. This renomination was despite the fact that, as Senator Patrick Leahy has explained, no appellate court nominee who has been rejected in one Congress had ever been renominated to the same position. It was also despite the fact that the Administration had been urged to “resist[] the temptation to seek the confirmation of judges the Judiciary Committee has already voted down.” And it was despite the fact that more than two dozen Texas groups had called upon the Administration not to renominate Owen, explaining that her opinions have been “extreme and often directly at odds with established rights and protections enjoyed by all Texans” and “often run far to the right of the conservative majority of her own court.”

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.

Senator Hatch provocatively entitled the March 13 hearing “Setting the Record Straight.” In fact, however, the record was no different after the March 2003 hearing than it was after the hearing in July 2002. Justice Owen’s record demonstrates that she is a conservative judicial activist who would allow her right wing ideology to trump her responsibilities as a judge to follow the law, directly contrary to President Bush’s asserted goal of appointing judges who would interpret the law, not make it.

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