Justice Owen's Past Cases Drawing Senators' Attention; Facts Disputed in Partisan Division over Nominee

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 20, 2005 | Go to article overview

Justice Owen's Past Cases Drawing Senators' Attention; Facts Disputed in Partisan Division over Nominee


Byline: Charles Hurt, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …

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