Taking the Fifth?

The battle lines form over the Bush nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The battle lines are forming over the Bush nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee might consider as early as this week. Owen's opponents are circulating this quotation from another Texas judge: "To construe the Parental Notification Act so narrowly as to eliminate bypasses or to create hurdles that simply are not to be found in the words of the statute would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism." That was the judgment of fellow Justice Alberto Gonzales, then Owen's colleague on the Texas Supreme Court. Owen had tried to block a young woman from obtaining an abortion without parental consent, and even Bush appointee Gonzales and his conservative colleagues recognized that Owens was overreaching in her attempt to rewrite already restrictive state legislation.

Gonzales is now President Bush's White House counsel, on the short list of possible Bush appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court, and is suddenly in the position of defending Owen's appointment to the 5th Circuit. Gonzales praises Owen as a fair and objective jurist, and says if the Texas Supreme Court seems conservative, the cause is elsewhere. He told The Dallas Morning News that the Texas Legislature is pro-business and therefore, "If we do our job as judges, we are going to come out with decisions that appear pro-business."

That circular logic is not likely to please pro-choice and pro-labor groups, who have vowed to fight the Owen nomination in the Senate, which is expected to hold hearings before its August recess. A coalition including the Texas Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the Texas NAACP, the AFL-CIO, and Texans for Public Justice are working together against Owen. "She's shown a willingness to go beyond the law to support her personal political beliefs," said Sarah Wheat of TARAL.

Conservative groups, including the Texas Eagle Forum, the Christian Coalition, and the Citizens for a Sound Economy, are rallying to Owen's defense. "Apparently, instead of judicial qualifications, the only qualification that the extreme left demands in a judge is mindless adherence to their left-wing activist agenda," said Kelly Shackelford, Chief Counsel for the Liberty Legal Institute. Considering the extremely conservative record of the 5th Circuit in recent years, Shackleford may fear that Owen's agenda is too far to the left. The Senate firefight should generate heat if not light.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Priscilla Owen, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Texas Supreme Court, Parental Notification Act, Alberto Gonzales, Sarah Wheat, Kelly Shackelford

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