- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Longtime court of appeals nominee Priscilla Owen got a Senate hearing yesterday. President Bush nominated the Texas Supreme Court justice to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2001. As with Charles Pickering, her opponents are using half-truths and outright lies to misrepresent her character and record.

That record is one any nominee would be proud of. Justice Owen received a unanimous "well-qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, a source that Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy calls "the gold standard." She is supported by 15 past presidents of the Texas Bar, both home-state senators and numerous colleagues, past and present. Justice Owen was also re-elected to the state Supreme Court in a landslide two years ago, winning the endorsement of every major Texas newspaper in the process.

With her qualifications, temperament and experience, she is the right person for the job. She also understands the difference between judges and legislators, something important to Americans alarmed by activist decisions like the recent Pledge of Allegiance ruling.

Naturally, that gives the liberal groups fits. They want nominees with the right political beliefs, not ones who leave their politics at the courthouse door and they would love to defeat a judge from Mr. Bush's home state.

Their attacks on Justice Owen fall into two categories parental notification and business generally. A glance at her record shows how baseless those attacks really are.

Texas, in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent, passed a law requiring girls to notify their parents before getting an abortion. A girl who didn't want to tell her parents could receive a judicial bypass if she met a legal standard. As the legislators envisioned it, that would be the exception rather than the rule.

Justice Owen's court reviewed several requests for a bypass after the lower courts denied them. None of the girls met the legal standard, and the cases were remanded with instructions to review them in light of certain aspects of the statute. Was she making a reasoned decision? Was this in the girl's best interest? Would she suffer "emotional abuse" if she notified her parents? And so on. One bypass was finally granted, and the justices naturally disagreed at times about how to apply the statute or what exactly an appellate court should do. But throughout, Justice Owen applied the law and precedent.

Not that you would know it from what her critics say. For example, they blame her for writing in the second bypass case that the court should consider whether the abortion was in the girl's best interest as well as whether the notification was not. But they ignore the U.S. Supreme Court precedent she followed, one that set that a standard for statutes with this language a ruling handed down before Texas passed its statute.

The liberals would like to make this an issue about abortion per se. It is not. It is about girls notifying their parents before they get one, as the elected legislators of Texas decided they generallyshould, Justice Owen rightly deferred to them and a higher court.

The other line of attack, a sort of vague business-related accusation, is just that: vague.

Texas has a system in which judgesare elected in partisan elections, and they are legally and ethically allowed to accept contributions. That is the way Texans want it.

Justice Owen, however, has been a strong advocate for reform. She believes elections should be nonpartisan, that the contribution system should be reformed, and she even pledged to limit campaign contributions during her first campaign. One of her critics, Texans for Public Justice, actually admitted in December that she is in the mainstream of Texas contribution laws.

But why let facts stand in the way? Despite Justice Owen's open efforts for reform, they have insinuated that something is wrong with the way she judges cases, blaming her acceptance of contributions while never actually accusing her of anything.

Again, Justice Owen's tangible record puts the lie to those vague insinuations. Looking at the facts of the cases not to mention how she and her colleagues actually ruled shows that she was impartial regardless of who was before her.

Even so, these left-wing groups the Washington crowd and the small fish brought in from Texas think they have a chance to defeat Justice Owen in committee. Whether they are right depends on how willing senators are to actually do their homework.

Not all Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are completely wedded to the political litmus test, and a few are willing to think on their own, instead of parroting whatever the outside groups tell them to say. If they are truly serious about their constitutional duty, they will look at Priscilla Owen's record for themselves.

John Nowacki is director of legal policy at the Free Congress Foundation.

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