- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

Amid the rhetoric about ‘unprecedented filibusters’ and ‘greedy power grabs’ during the Senate debate over President Bush’s judicial nominations this week, pointed charges have emerged regarding court cases on which the nominees ruled.

Democrats say Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen — nominated more than four years ago to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit — is hostile to women’s rights and cozy with corporate interests.

‘I believe it is pretty clear that Justice Owen does not protect victims’ rights,’ said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat. She cited Read v. Scott Fetzer Co., a 1998 Texas case.

‘Justice Owen ruled that a rape victim — a rape victim — could not collect civil damages against a vacuum cleaner company that employed an in-home dealer who raped her while he was demonstrating the company’s product even though the company had failed to check his references,’ Mrs. Murray said.

Had the company checked, Mrs. Murray said, it would have found that he had harassed women previously and had been charged with inappropriate sexual conduct with a child.

But Republicans, led by the office of Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said Mrs. Murray had got her facts wrong. According to Mr. Cornyn’s office, Justice Owen argued to dismiss liability only for the manufacturer of the vacuum cleaner, not the independent distributor who hired the salesman.

‘The dissenting opinion made expressly clear that ‘[n]o one questions that [the company that hired the rapist] is liable,” said an e-mail sent from Mr. Cornyn’s office shortly after Mrs. Murray’s speech.

Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois cited several cases in which he said Justice Owen was scolded for her dissents by her colleagues.

‘She has often been guilty of ignoring plain law, distorting legislative history and engaging in extreme judicial activism,’ he said.

‘Justice Owen has favored manufacturers over consumers, large corporations over individual employees, insurance companies over claimants and judge-made law over jury verdicts,’ he said.

One of the cases Mr. Durbin cited is Montgomery Independent School District v. Davis, in which a teacher was found to have been ‘wrongly fired.’

The 2000 case ‘involved the authority of a local school board to dismiss a poorly performing and abusive teacher,’ according to Mr. Cornyn’s office. ‘She also regularly insulted parents and lied to them about their children.’

Another case often cited by Democrats is Texas Farmers Insurance Co. v. Murphy, in which Justice Owen sided with an insurance company that had denied payment to a couple whose house was torched.

Mr. Cornyn’s office said the house in the 1999 case had been torched by the man who was co-insured by the company.

‘Justice Owen ruled simply that neither an arsonist nor his spouse should benefit from his crime by recovering insurance proceeds,’ according to the e-mail.

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