- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Abortion is at the center of the debate over President Bush’s judicial nominations.Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other Republicans decry “the new abortion litmus test” that they say has become the Democrats’ most important factor in determining which nominations to filibuster.Democrats say they have no single litmus test but believe that protecting abortion rights is crucial to a nominee’s fitness for the federal bench.The most commonly stated reservation about Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen is “the serious doubt about her ability to safeguard the constitutional right to privacy and reproductive freedom,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.Justice Owen, who has been nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Miguel Estrada, nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, are being filibustered by Democrats, who are trying to prevent a vote on their confirmations.A key architect of the effort was Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who said last week that others in his party’s caucus initially doubted that the filibusters would work.”But we did it out of conviction,” he said. “It’s amazing. It has strengthened our caucus even if in the end we have to pay a bit of a price.”Every nomination filibustered or targeted for filibuster has been singled out by abortion rights advocacy groups.Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group “will use every available resource to protect our rights and stop Owen.”The group’s Web site says it will publish scores for senators based on their votes on Justice Owen, who has been criticized by some abortion rights advocacy groups for not allowing minors seeking abortions to circumvent a Texas law requiring parental notification.Planned Parenthood, also an advocate for abortion rights, blankets Senate Judiciary Committee hearings with position papers on targeted nominees.One of those targeted is Leon Holmes, who has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Mr. Holmes should be rejected because “he served as president of Arkansas Right to Life,” said Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt.The group also has set its sights on Justice Owen and Carolyn Kuhl, a California judge nominated to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.Democrats indicate they also may try to filibuster the Holmes and Kuhl nominations.Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, also has been instrumental in the effort. A month before Democrats began to filibuster Mr. Estrada’s nomination, Mr. Neas distributed a four-page memo arguing that a filibuster was “the one remaining check and balance in our federal system.”Mr. Neas says Mr. Bush probably will “want the Senate to be his rubber stamp” for conservative judges, but “Democrats and moderate Republicans must oppose those nominations, and they must be willing to use all the parliamentary options at their disposal, including, when necessary, the filibuster.”The Democratic National Committee has a “Supreme Court Countdown” featured prominently on its Web site.Included is a color-coded “Supreme Court Advisory System,” mimicking the Bush administration’s terror threat alert. The current threat level is listed as orange, for “High Risk to American Values.”A central concern for many Democrats is the expected retirements of Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. A turnover would threaten the ideological composition of the court, “and Sandra Day O’Connor is the crucial swing vote protecting a woman’s right to choose,” the DNC says.Groups representing the disabled community have not been so successful in getting Democrats’ attention. Disability advocates vehemently opposed the nomination of Ohio lawyer Jeffrey Sutton to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying Mr. Sutton eroded the effectiveness of federal laws aimed at helping the disabled.”Every time we have problems enforcing laws, it comes back to something Jeffrey Sutton did,” said Jennifer Mathis, director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.Bazelon and dozens of other groups lobbied furiously against Mr. Sutton, who had less support in the Senate than Judge Owen or Mr. Estrada. Yet, Mr. Sutton won confirmation.”I’ve been scratching my head,” Ms. Mathis said. “We were very frustrated that they chose to fight certain battles and not others.”Asked whether the disability community would hold the Sutton confirmation against Democrats, Ms. Mathis said, “I don’t think we feel we were abandoned. We were just let down.”

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