President Bush’s nomination of ultra-conservative, anti-abortion rights Priscilla Owen to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was defeated today in a 10-9 vote by the US Senate Judiciary Committee. Owen, who served as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court and is known for her conservative judicial activism, was turned down in a party line vote because of her stance on abortion rights and her status as a champion of big business interests. “For those of us who are pro-choice this is important,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “I ran as a pro-choice candidate and I came to this committee to protect choice.” Noting that the committee is not there to act as the Bush administration’s rubber stamp for judicial nominees, Feinstein added: “I hope the administration is listening.”
The Judiciary committee held a hearing on Owen’s nomination in July during which she was questioned closely about her dissenting opinions in cases involving a Texas law that allows teenagers to seek the court’s permission for an abortion without having to tell their parents. Owen has been called too ideologically far to the right by even her conservative colleagues. One specific opinion in which she attempted to infuse the parental notification law with her own conservative standards was characterized by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who served with Owen on the Texas court, as “an unconscionable act of judicial activism.”
Owen was nominated by President Bush in May 2001. Another nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Charles Pickering, was defeated for his conservative anti-abortion, anti-women’s rights views last spring. As a member of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Owen could have substantially increased regulations in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas for women seeking abortions.