No Independence on Senate Judiciary Committee; Justice Priscilla Owen Failed Pro-Choice Litmus test.(OPED)(SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY)
Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Once again, the Senate Judiciary Committee has taken it upon itself to be the sole judge and jury of a presidential judicial nomination - rejecting, on 10-9 party-line vote, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Also rejected was a proposal to send the nomination to a full Senate vote, where there was a strong likelihood that she would be confirmed. I was particularly disappointed that Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold - the only senator with the constitutional courage to vote against the USA Patriot Act - joined the party-line vote on both counts.
My own judicial heroes have been Louis Brandeis, William O. Douglas, William Brennan and Hugo Black. I do not have a conservative bent in these matters. In this confrontation, I watched Justice Owen's hearing before the committee on C-SPAN and researched her rulings. I disagree with a number of her decisions, but I came to the same conclusion as a July 24 editorial in The Washington Post, hardly a bastion of conservatism, that "Justice Owen is indisputably well-qualified. . . She is still a conservative. And that is still not a good reason to vote her down."
When the Bush administration decided to largely ignore the American Bar Association's ratings of judicial nominees, Democrats in the Senate were indignant because they wanted the ABA to continue to be involved. But here comes Priscilla Owen with a unanimous rating of "well-qualified" by the American Bar Association.
But when she was voted down by the Democratic majority on the Judiciary Committee, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, hardly a renowned constitutional scholar, said, "The message is this: We will confirm qualified judges. Don't send us unqualified people."
Justice Owen was attacked for her "ideological extremism" by members of the committee, who were bullying her, such as New York Sen. Charles Schumer. But their real message was that they wanted to be sure how she would vote on the Fifth Circuit on their own ideological priorities, such as teen-agers and abortion. Yet, her rulings on parental consent for teen-agers desiring abortions are, she told them, in line with Supreme Court decisions.
Moreover, national polls I've seen show a large majority of Americans in favor of parental consent for abortions. Yet, Democrats on the committee charged that Justice Owen is "out of the mainstream."
There were other objections, but as Nina Totenberg reported on National Public Radio, "Democrats put her abortion record front and center, portraying it as hostile to abortion rights. …