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Bush rebukes Democrats for rejecting Texas judge

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate Judiciary Committee again has rejected a nominee to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, eliciting a scolding from President Bush.

In three 10-9 votes Sept. 5, the committee refused to send the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the Senate with a favorable recommendation, as well as with no recommendation or with an unfavorable one. All 10 votes came from the Democratic majority on the committee.

“What the Democrat members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have done to Justice Owen is shameful, even by Washington standards,” Bush said in a prepared statement. “They have distorted her record and misconstrued her opinions. They have determined that a nominee’s experience, academic credentials and character are inconsequential.

“Today’s action by this small group of Democrat senators is wrong. It has harmed a good person, harmed our courts and harmed the American people.”

Democrats charged Owen with judicial activism, especially in her opinions on a Texas law requiring parental notification for a minor before she may obtain an abortion. The 1999 law mandating parental notification contained a provision enabling a judge to grant an exception if he deems the underage girl mature and well-informed. In a majority of cases, Owen opposed a judicial bypass for minors requesting one.

All 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are pro-choice, and abortion-rights organizations led the campaign against Owen, whose undergraduate and law degrees are from Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

The opposition effort to Owen shared similarities with the successful campaign against the nomination of Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court.

In March, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted against sending Pickering’s nomination to the Senate floor. The 10-9 vote came after organizations such as People for the American Way, the NAACP and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League attacked the federal judge’s record on civil rights, as well as his views on abortion rights and church-state separation. Supporters of his confirmation, however, charged the opposition based its campaign on a distortion of Pickering’s record on civil rights and on concerns about future rulings on abortion.

“The Democrats’ 10 Judiciary Committee members have given America once again a disgraceful performance in subverting the Constitution,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The Constitution says that the judicial nominees are to be confirmed or rejected by the Senate, not 10 members of a Senate committee. Even though I am sure the 10 Democrat senators who voted against Judge Owen don’t like it, President Bush won the 2000 election and thus has the right to nominate judges for consideration by the full Senate, not this 10-senator inquisition.

“These senators’ disgraceful behavior toward an extremely qualified nominee has done serious, long-term damage to the process of judicial confirmation, and I am fearful that the justifiable retribution that will inevitably occur in future confirmation processes will inflict even further damage and will further undermine the peoples’ confidence in their judges, as well as their senators. Such grossly unfair treatment by the Democrat majority on this Judiciary Committee will make it even more difficult in the future for presidents to convince the best qualified people to allow themselves to be nominated, only to find themselves facing the injustice of such a kangaroo court,” Land said. “I’m just grateful that none of the despicable 10 senators are from my state, and the citizens of the states they purportedly represent have my condolences.”

The vote marked the first time an appeals court nominee rated as “well-qualified” by the American Bar Association has been rejected by the Judiciary Committee. Owen and Pickering are the only nominees rejected by the committee since 1991, said Family Research Council President Ken Connor.

Owen was “sacrificed on the altar of political correctness,” Connor said. “Her defeat also exposes [the 10 Democrats’] absolute commitment to radical feminist organizations, which smeared her reputation for supporting [the parental notification law]. These organizations are so fanatical about abortion that they misrepresented the record of an outstanding woman who has clearly been a leader in her field.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., however, said Owen’s opinions in the parental-notification cases “demonstrated her tendency toward ends-oriented decision making.”

“Before and after he took office, President Bush said he wanted to be a uniter and not a divider, yet he has sent the Senate several nominees who divide the Senate and the American people,” Leahy said in a prepared statement. “This committee and the Senate have made the judgment that [the 73 Bush nominees it has approved] will fulfill their duties to act fairly and impartially. I urge the president to choose nominees who fit that profile, not the profile of Justice Owen.”

Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a written release her organization “hopes the Bush administration now will nominate candidates who will affirm women’s reproductive rights.”

Owen was elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1994 and re-elected in 2000. Bush nominated her to the appeals court in May 2001.

Pickering, a federal judge in Mississippi’s Southern District for 11 years, is a member of First Baptist Church in Laurel, Miss., and served two years in the mid-1980s as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. He was a member of the Peace Committee that was established in 1985 to address issues related to the controversy at that time in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Fifth Circuit consists of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The appeals court is based in New Orleans.