- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

Judicial nominee Priscilla Owen, whose nomination was rejected last fall in the Judiciary Committee by Democrats, yesterday was approved by the committee in a straight party-line vote and now faces a Senate vote as early as next week.

Democrats had blocked Judge Owen's nomination to the U.S. Fifth Circuit when they were in control last fall and Republicans vowed to resuscitate her chances after gaining control of the Senate in November's elections.

The Texas Supreme Court justice is one of several of President Bush's judicial nominees targeted by Democrats for rejection. She is one of two who were defeated last fall and have been renominated.

As they did in September, Democrats portrayed Judge Owen as an "extreme" conservative who is "outside the mainstream."

Even with Republicans in charge, Justice Owen's fate in the full chamber is not clear.

An unwavering group of 45 Democrats have stalled Washington lawyer Miguel A. Estrada's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for weeks through a procedural maneuver that requires 60 votes for passage.

Democrats say they are blocking Mr. Estrada's nomination because they don't know enough about him. If they block Justice Owen, it will be because they don't think she's fit to be a judge.

In particular, they have pointed to an opinion by Justice Owen that limited the ability of minors to bypass a law requiring parental notification before getting an abortion. They also accuse her of ruling against plaintiffs.

Democrats insist they haven't determined their course of action for Justice Owen. "I haven't gotten into that yet," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee.

But they haven't ruled out halting Justice Owen's nomination in the full Senate with the same type filibuster they're using to hold up Mr. Estrada.

That tactic has been highlighted by Republicans with weekly votes to break the filibuster, an effort to repeatedly portray Democrats as obstructionists. Republican leaders did not, however, press such a vote this week because of the war in Iraq and budget negotiations.

Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, said, "We're not giving up. We're in this for the long term."

For the moment, he said, party leaders are content calling for occasional votes and plan one for early next week. Republicans have hinted ominously to some "nuclear" option for breaking the judicial logjam sometime after Easter.

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