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Party-line vote sends Owen nomination to Senate floor


WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate Judiciary Committee has forwarded the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the floor after rejecting her nomination last year.

The panel approved Owen’s nomination March 27 in a 10-9 party-line vote, with the Republicans in the majority. The committee turned back Owen in a 10-9 vote in September when Democrats were in the majority. The panel refused to send her nomination forward at that time with even an unfavorable nomination.

The November elections put the GOP back in control of the Senate. President Bush renominated Owen to the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in January. She was first nominated in May 2001.

President Bush commended the committee’s action, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

“Justice Owen has been held up for far too long, and it is time for the Senate to rise above the partisan politics and hold an up-or-down vote on this extremely qualified nominee. When confirmed, she will serve the court and the American people with great distinction,” Fleischer said in a written statement.

Abortion-rights organizations have led the campaign against Owen, and some Democrats have charged her with judicial activism. Both have focused their attacks on her opinions regarding a Texas law requiring parental notification for a minor before obtaining an abortion. The 1999 law mandating parental notification contained a provision enabling a judge to grant an exception if the underage girl is deemed mature and well-informed. In a majority of cases, Owen opposed a judicial bypass for minors requesting one.


It is possible Democrats will filibuster Owen’s nomination the way they have that of Miguel Estrada. So far, Estrada, a nominee to the District of Columbia Circuit Court, has not received a floor vote on his nomination. Three cloture votes have failed. Each time, 51 Republicans and four Democrats have voted for cloture, which would break the delay and bring Estrada’s nomination to the floor. Sixty votes are required for cloture.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called Owen “astoundingly qualified” and said “[c]onstitutionalists should all be encouraged” by the committee’s latest vote.

“Justice Owen has served with distinction on the Texas Supreme Court and deserves a timely vote by the full Senate, which, if given, will confirm her to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Land said.

“One can only hope that the gaggle of constitutional obstructionists, who have already for the first time in the history of the republic filibustered a federal appeals court nomination in the case of Miguel Estrada, will not repeat their odious tactics with Justice Owen,” he said. “I would encourage everyone to contact both of their senators and to urge them to give both Priscilla Owen and Miguel Estrada a vote by the full Senate. If they feel they must vote against their confirmations, then do so. But give them a vote before the full Senate and quit supporting a filibuster if they have been doing so.”

Owen was elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1994 and re-elected in 2000.

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