Bush Court Nominee Defends Record
Jul. 23, 2002
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. Court of Appeals candidate Priscilla Owen told senators that liberal special interest groups have distorted her character to deny her a seat on the bench.
``The picture that some special interest groups have painted of me is wrong,'' Owen said Tuesday at her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.
Bush selected Owen more than a year ago for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The federal appeals courts are second only to the Supreme Court in the nation's judicial hierarchy
Owen has faced fierce opposition from liberal groups who say she is pro-business and anti-abortion.
Owen's rulings in cases in support of a Texas law requiring young girls to notify parents when having abortions have been a catalyst for opposition. One of those opinions even drew criticism from Bush's own general counsel, Alberto Gonzales, who served with Owen on the Texas high court.
``There are feelings among some that you are a judicial activist,'' said California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who supports abortion rights.
However, Owen told Feinstein she is a fair and impartial judge and would follow the law as it's written.
``If I am confirmed, I will do my utmost to apply the statutes you have written as you have written them, not as I would have written them or others might want me to interpret them,'' she said.
Owen's record on cases involving large corporations also has raised eyebrows of committee members, some of them former trial lawyers.
Opponents have pointed to the $8,600 in campaign contributions she accepted from Enron Corp. and a majority opinion that she wrote two years later reducing Enron's taxes by $15 million.
``Owen has demonstrated a commitment to money over morality,'' National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy said in a statement.
Supporters say those accusations are more an argument against Texas' system for electing judges, than against Owen herself. Texas requires candidates to run for judicial office and does not allow them to remove themselves from cases in which a contributor is involved, said John Nowacki, legal policy director for Free Congress Foundation, which advocates an overhaul of the judicial selection process.
Nowacki said Owen voluntarily limited 2000 contributions and returned some contributions when she didn't draw any major party opponents. He also said she has advocated changing the Texas judicial election process.
``She decided all these cases fairly regardless of who was before her,'' Nowacki said.
But after repeated questions from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Owen acknowledged that in cases involving a contributor, she did not disclose that one side had given to her campaign. Such disclosure is not required and campaign contributions are public record, Owen told Leahy.
Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats Joseph Biden of Delaware and Herbert Kohl and Russ Feingold, both of Wisconsin, were expected to provide the pivotal votes on recommending whether Owen be confirmed or rejected by the Senate.
On Sunday talk shows, Biden said Owen ``seems to reach pretty far in terms of going beyond what the law states on its face'' but added that he was reserving judgment.
A product of the Baylor University School of Law in Waco, Texas, Owen worked as a partner in the Houston firm Andrews & Kurth. She was elected to the state's highest court in 1994.
On the Net: Justice Department biography of Owen: http://www.usdoj.gov/olp/owenbio.htm