- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats yesterday rejected President Bush's judicial nominee from his home state of Texas on a straight party-line vote.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen's nomination to the 5th Circuit Court was rejected on three separate votes by 10-9.

"Priscilla Owen is being opposed because she is a friend of President Bush's from Texas," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and ranking Judiciary Committee member.

Republicans, hoping to regain control of the Senate after the November election, say they will not pull the nomination from further consideration.

The vote marked the first time in history a nominee ranked as "well qualified" by the American Bar Association was defeated in committee. The vetting procedure was eliminated by Mr. Bush but reinstated by Democrats when they took control of the Senate. Democrats insisted the ABA ranking was the gold standard by which to judge all nominees.

"I guess we're off the gold standard," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican. "I do not doubt the actions today will have consequences. History will not treat kindly the rejection of Justice Owen."

Mr. Bush has nominated 32 appellate judges; the Senate has confirmed 13 to date.

"No president in history has been treated with this level of obstructionism in the first two years of office," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Democrats repeatedly stated they would not support Justice Owen because she does not fit their definition of moderation. "We can fill every vacancy on the federal bench if you send us moderate nominees who will not throw our courts out of balance," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

"If you persist in sending us controversial nominees, we have no choice but to closely scrutinize their records and reject those who would bring an ideological agenda to their powerful posts on the federal bench," Mr. Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said he was "shocked" Democrats would apply such a "narrow litmus test" of political persuasion.

Democrats also accused Justice Owen of being a judicial activist who crafted laws from the bench dealing with parental notification laws for abortion.

"I know political people because I am one. Priscilla Owen is not a political person," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican. "The idea that this good woman is some kind of political activist or kook is as far as you can get from the truth."

Republicans warned Democrats before the vote they were crossing a dangerous line in citing conservatism as a disqualification to sit on the bench.

"This is a day we will live to regret, on both sides of the aisle," Mr. Hatch said.

People for the American Way, a leading opponent of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees, released a statement after the vote that Democrats had sent a "clear message to President Bush: right-wing judicial activists will not be confirmed."

Justice Owen was also strongly opposed by national women's organizations and what Mr. Hatch called "the powerful abortion industry lobby."

With 1 million abortions a year costing $1,000 each, Mr. Hatch said, "the fight over Priscilla Owen is not about abortion rights, but abortion profits."

The three votes were to confirm, report to the full Senate favorably, or to report unfavorably. Republicans said Justice Owen was certain to receive confirmation by the full Senate, with the announcement of support Wednesday by Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat.

"Justice Owen enjoys bipartisan support in her home state of Texas and she is a qualified jurist," Mr. Miller said. "I really hope we will not begin the trend of rejecting nominees over narrow, single-issue litmus tests."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said committee Democrats will not "rubber-stamp" nominees and that ideology and philosophy will be a major factor.

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