Setting the Record Straight: Second Owen Hearing Highlights Hatch Hypocrisy

Previously rejected nominee scheduled for second full hearing while other controversial nominees pushed without meaningful scrutiny

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.

“There is no need to set anything straight about Priscilla Owen’s record,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. “Sen. Dianne Feinstein conducted a scrupulously fair and in-depth hearing last July. The problem for Owen is her own record at the far-right fringe of a very conservative court. Even her conservative colleagues have often criticized her attempts to rewrite the law in a way that would severely damage the rights of ordinary Americans. Owen was defeated by her willingness to rewrite the law in pursuit of a right-wing ideological agenda.”

Neas noted that during the period in 1999-2000 when current White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales served with Owen on the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales wrote or joined numerous opinions sharply criticizing opinions written or joined by Owen. In one case, Gonzales wrote that Owen and the other dissenting justices were advocating “an unconscionable act of judicial activism.”

Neas contrasted Hatch’s decision to hold an additional hearing for Priscilla Owen with a recent hearing at which Hatch scheduled three controversial appeals court nominees to appear simultaneously, violating a bipartisan agreement dating back to the 1980s that no more than one controversial nominee would be scheduled at the same hearing and virtually ensuring that it would be impossible for senators to effectively carry out their constitutional obligation to review nominees’ fitness for powerful lifetime positions on the federal courts.

“In his eagerness to have the Senate rubber stamp the president’s judicial nominees, Sen. Hatch is making a mockery of his oft-professed commitment to fairness,” said Neas. “The special treatment being accorded Priscilla Owen is just one example of Sen. Hatch’s increasingly arbitrary and unfair abuse of the power of his chairmanship.”

Today Neas re-released a People For the American Way report that was published earlier this year in the wake of Owen’s renomination. The report carefully reviews Owen’s record of activism on the bench, and documents that Owen’s testimony at her hearing last July raised new questions about her fitness for the federal court and that she gave incomplete or erroneous answers in response to questions about her pro-corporate/anti-consumer opinions, her judicial activism in reproductive rights cases, and ethical issues surrounding the Texas Supreme Court’s former practice of allowing law clerks to receive bonuses from private law firms while clerking for the court.

Owen’s confirmation is opposed by a broad range of state and national organizations that have criticized her record on workers’ rights, reproductive choice, and the environment.

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