Texas justice gets new chance at U.S. court
WASHINGTON -- Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, hoping for confirmation to a federal appeals court, complained Thursday that Democrats misrepresented her positions last year when they rejected her nomination.
Owen was turned away by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee last year but is being given a second chance by Republicans now that they control the Senate. Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he plans to use his one-vote majority to push her nomination through to the Senate for confirmation, although a final committee vote has not been set.
Democrats contended that Owen is an anti-abortion and pro-business judicial activist whose opinions and rulings are overly influenced by her personal beliefs. They voted her nomination down with a party-line vote in September.
Owen said Thursday, "I felt that what I have done, the decisions that I have written and what has been written by my colleagues about me were not accurately characterized."
"By members of the committee?" Hatch prompted.
"Or by people who gave members of the committee information," Owen replied.
Although Hatch said he didn't need to hold a second Owen hearing, "I think it's important for us to blow away some of these unfair comments that have been made," he said.
Owen, who wants a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, tried to reassure Democrats that she would be a fair and impartial judge if confirmed by the Senate.
"I judge cases by what is right," said Owen, who first appeared before the committee in July. "I do not judge cases by what is politically correct."
Many Democrats were still unimpressed.
"I remain convinced that her record shows that in case after case involving a variety of legal issues, she is a judicial activist, willing to make law from the bench rather than follow the language and intent of the legislature," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee's top Democrat.
Democrats on Thursday also withstood a second GOP attempt to break their filibuster on Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada, saying they will keep Estrada's nomination from moving forward until he answers more of their questions and turns over his working papers from his time at the Justice Department.
In a 55-42 vote, Senate Republicans failed to win the 60 votes needed to move to the confirmation of Estrada, who wants a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Every Republican voted to end the filibuster. They were joined by Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, John Breaux of Louisiana and Zell Miller of Georgia.
The rest of the Democrats stood firm, with Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, John Edwards of North Carolina and Joseph Biden of Delaware missing the vote.
President Bush blamed Democrats for allowing an "unacceptably high" number of vacancies on the federal bench. "The judicial confirmation process is broken and the consequences for the American people are real," Bush said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., immediately announced that Republicans will try a third time on Tuesday.
The Senate confirmed Justice Department lawyer Jay Bybee for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco by a 74-19 vote.