Owen's record gives reason for pause on judicial post.Houston Chronicle Editorial
May 11, 2003
Earlier this month, 44 U.S. senators refused to go along on a votethat would have ended a filibuster on the nomination of Priscilla Owen to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Good. Owen's judicial record shows less interest in impartially interpreting the law than in pushing
The problem is not that Owen is "too conservative," as some of her critics complain, but that she too often contorts rulings to conform to her particular conservative outlook. It's saying something that Owen is a regular dissenter on a Texas Supreme Court made up mostly of other conservative Republicans.
On cases that have reached the Supreme Court in which minor girls have tried to get a judge's permission to avoid having to tell their parents they want to have an abortion, Owen and fellow-Justice Nathan Hecht have tried to set up legal hurdles so high hardly any girl in Texas could qualify.
The complaints against Owen's conduct on the bench run from a penchant for overturning jury verdicts on tortuous readings of the law to a distinct bias against consumers and in favor of large corporations. Some detractors find her demeanor unbecoming of a judge (according to one report, Owen actually turned her back to an attorney arguing before the court).
One troubling case cited by Owen critics involved the Ford Motor Co., which lawyers for a paralyzed teenager sued over a seat belt they alleged was faulty. Owen cited problems with where the matter had been litigated in rejecting the trial jury's verdict favoring the teen, but venue was not even a matter the parties had brought up.
In another case Owen's opinion allowed now-disgraced Enron to avoid paying millions in school taxes to the Spring Independent School District by choosing its own asset valuation date. The company picked a date on which gas prices were at their lowest. Although an appellate court had
made a plausible argument that it was unconstitutional for a state law to give some taxpayers such an unfair advantage over others, Owen's opinion upheld Enron's view.
Democrats showed with the recent confirmation of Bush nominee Edward Prado of San Antonio to the 5th Circuit that they don't want to sink all the president's judicial picks. In fact, the Senate has confirmed 124 judges since July of 2001, choosing to filibuster on only two, Owen and Miguel
Estrada, Bush's pick for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The public should question why President Bush chooses to put up such ideologically driven nominees. Now, Bush has nominated James Leon Holmes, a former president of Arkansas Right to Life, for a judicial post in that state. This is a man who has written that women should subordinate themselves to their husbands and that rape victims get pregnant with about the same frequency as snow falls in Miami.
The Democrats' stalling on Owen's nomination is political, to be sure. But it also represents a rational desire to prevent the lifetime appointment of a justice who has shown a clear preference for ruling to achieve a particular result rather than impartially interpreting the law. Anyone willing to look objectively at Owen's record would be hard-pressed to deny that.