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Senate panel OKs Owen, Brown; filibuster showdown nears


WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved April 21 two female nominees whose consideration by senators could trigger a showdown over judicial filibusters.

The committee forwarded to the full Senate in 10-8, party-line votes the nominations of Priscilla Owen to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and Janice Rogers Brown to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

Democrats blocked confirmation votes for both nominees during the first administration of President Bush and have said they will filibuster both women again to prevent them from gaining the seats to which they have been nominated. When the filibuster is utilized successfully with Owen, Brown or another nominee, Majority Leader Bill Frist is expected to lead a Republican effort to change the rule, which will require only a majority vote.

Under the Senate’s rules, 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster. Previously, Owen, Brown and other Bush nominees have gained majorities but have been unable to achieve the 60 votes required to halt the Democrats’ delaying tactics.

Democrats used the filibuster in Bush’s first four years to block 10 of his 52 appellate court nominees. Bush re-nominated this year all seven of the filibustered nominees who remained as candidates for the posts.

Democrats have accused the filibustered nominees of being outside the judicial mainstream, but at least some of their opposition appears to be based on the nominees’ pro-life rulings and viewpoints.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., one of the leading proponents of a rule change, reportedly is encouraging Republicans to delay an attempt for such a parliamentary victory. The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reported April 21 on Santorum’s new approach, which it said is based on undisclosed polling that shows Americans have accepted Democratic arguments the GOP is seeking to destroy Senate tradition.

Frist applauded the Judiciary panel’s action on Owen and Brown.

“In the last Congress, these highly qualified women were blocked by a partisan filibuster when Democrats refused to give them an up or down vote,” Frist said in a written statement. “Soon, all 100 Senators will have to decide if these highly qualified candidates will get a fair up or down vote on the Senate floor.”

Owen is a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, while Brown sits on the California Supreme Court.

Christian leaders will appear at a “Justice Sunday” nationwide simulcast April 24 in support of changing the filibuster rule. Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. are scheduled to speak in person. Frist and Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship are to speak by video.

The 7 p.m. Eastern event will be at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., and is being sponsored by the FRC and Focus on the Family Action. (Information about how churches and individuals can watch the simulcast is available at www.frc.org.)

Democrats regularly refer to a rule change on judicial filibusters as the “nuclear option,” while Republicans call it the “constitutional option.”

Republicans had only a 51-member majority before the November election, in which they gained four seats. The larger majority has strengthened the GOP’s chances of achieving the majority needed for a rule change.
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