The Senate Judiciary Committee today set up a potential “nuclear” showdown in the Senate as early as next week by approving two appeals court nominees whose far-right judicial philosophies and troubling judicial activism resulted in their nominations being blocked during the last Congress.
It is widely expected that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will use expected filibusters against Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen and California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, who could be brought to the floor as early as next week, as an excuse to trigger his “nuclear option” – a parliamentary abuse of power that would break Senate rules in order to eliminate the checks and balances provided for more than 200 years by the Senate’s filibuster rules and tradition of extended debate.
“Senator Frist appears ready to force a confrontation on nominees who have already been rejected for the appeals court,” said Neas. “A 95 percent approval rate for Bush judges isn’t good enough for the far right. So Senator Frist will try to justify gutting the fundamental constitutional principle of checks and balances to help a couple of judges get lifetime jobs that more than 40 U.S. Senators think they are unfit to hold. That is a terrible tradeoff for the American public.”
Neas said the serious problems with the records of Owen and Brown make it clear that this fight is not about fair, high quality judges, but about Republican leaders’ desire to use the courts as an extension of their political power. This is especially dangerous given the likelihood of multiple Supreme Court vacancies in the coming years. Owen and Brown have repeatedly tried to remake, rather than interpret, the law in ways that would harm the rights of individuals and consumers but benefit corporations. Their disturbing records have led women’s, environmental, civil rights, labor, and consumer organizations to join a broad coalition of groups opposed to the confirmation of Owen and Brown.
“America works best when no one party has absolute power,” said Neas. “But by eliminating the one tool that encourages bipartisan compromise and consensus on important matters, like lifetime judges, Republican leaders are trying to eliminate the independence of our courts and give themselves control over every branch of government.”
People For the American Way has published extensive reports on Owen and Brown, which are available at https://www.pfaw.org/go/nominees. Owen stands out as a far-right partisan and advocate of corporate power on the Texas Supreme Court, which is increasingly conservative overall. She continues to demonstrate her tendency to improperly re-write statutes and contracts from the bench to limit individuals’ protections under the law. And she has a record of judicial activism in restricting reproductive choice that has drawn criticism even from her conservative colleagues.
Brown has used her position to push a radical view of the Constitution that would eliminate worker protections like minimum wage laws, give corporations free reign to abuse workers and the environment, and undermine constitutional protections for fundamental rights and liberties. She has repeatedly tried to get the California Supreme Court to rewrite laws to make them fit her own economic and political philosophy, urging a kind of judicial activism that flies in the face of claims by the White House and Republican leadership that they are looking for judges who will follow the law.