- July 16 - People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas today called on
the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the confirmation of Priscilla Owen to
the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Neas stated that Owen is a far-right
ideologue whose judicial philosophy threatens fundamental rights and liberties.
Neas also released a detailed PFAW report that documents Owen’s troubling
history of right-wing judicial activism as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.
"President Bush has said that
he wants judges who will interpret the law, not make it," said Neas. "In
Priscilla Owen, he has found the exact opposite. Owen’s record demonstrates
her willingness to ignore the law in pursuit of an ultra-conservative agenda,
and that agenda gets in the way of her responsibilities as a jurist." Owen’s
nomination is also opposed by a broad coalition of Texas-based groups, including
organizations representing civil rights, women’s rights, labor and consumer
Neas said Owen’s disturbing
record on reproductive choice and employee rights would be especially harmful
to the citizens of the Fifth Circuit, the most populous and diverse appeals circuit
in the nation. "Because the U.S. Supreme Court accepts fewer than 90 cases
a year, the federal appeals court is the court of last resort for millions of
Americans," said Neas.
"As our report demonstrates,
Justice Owen is far to the right of the conservative majority on the Texas Supreme
Court," said Neas. Many of the justices who have frequently opposed Owen’s
dissenting opinions were appointed by then-Governor Bush, including current White
House Counsel Alberto Gonazales. In one case, Gonzales wrote that Owen and the
other dissenting justices were committing "an unconscionable act of judicial
Owen’s judicial activism is
particularly demonstrated in her dissenting opinions, which reveal her efforts
to make the law rather than abide by her obligation to interpret it. PFAW’s
report examines many of the dissenting opinions authored or joined by Owen during
her seven and a half years on the Texas Supreme Court. The analysis establishes
that Justice Owen has attempted again and again to overrule the law when it clashes
with her personal ideology. In many cases, her targets are critical civil or individual
rights. The report addresses four broad areas, and summarizes Owen’s failure
to uphold the legislature’s intent in each.
DISCRIMINATION AND EMPLOYEE RIGHTS:
In several cases, Justice Owen has dissented from rulings by the Texas Supreme
Court affecting the rights of employees, including the right to be free from invidious
discrimination. In one such case, Owen embraced an interpretation of a key Texas
civil rights law that would have effectively rewritten part of that law and made
it much more difficult for employees to prove discrimination. In another case,
the majority explained that the dissent "defies the Legislature’s clear
and express limits on our jurisdiction." Owen’s dissenting views in
these cases were rejected by the Court majority, including justices appointed
to the Court by then-Governor Bush.
REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: In 1999, the Texas Legislature enacted a law requiring that,
with certain exceptions, a minor’s parents be notified before she could
obtain an abortion. The state’s Parental Notification Act provides a judicial
bypass procedure enabling a mature, sufficiently well-informed minor to obtain
a court order permitting an abortion without parental notification. In several
cases decided by the Texas Supreme Court during 2000 involving the bypass provision,
Justice Owen vigorously dissented from the Court’s rulings, advocating extremely
restrictive interpretations or applications of the bypass law that would have
effectively rewritten the law. In one of those cases, Owen’s extreme views
led current White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, then a colleague on the Texas
Supreme Court, to charge Owen and her fellow dissenters with "unconscionable"
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES AND PUBLIC INFORMATION RIGHTS: In several recent cases, Justice
Owen has dissented from rulings protecting public information rights and the environment.
In one case, the majority criticized her dissent for consisting mostly of "inflammatory
rhetoric" and arguments "based on a flawed premise." In another,
four justices in the majority wrote that Owen’s dissent "effectively
writes out" the state public information law and ignores its purpose. The
Court majority that rejected these dissents included justices appointed by then-Governor
RIGHTS OF CONSUMERS AND OTHER CITIZENS: Many of Justice Owen’s dissents
have been in cases in which the majority has upheld the rights of consumers and
other citizens. These dissents by Owen have consistently favored businesses and
government, contrary to past precedent and the legislature’s judgment. Her
dissenting views would have seriously impaired the rights of ordinary citizens
to have access to the courts and to obtain redress for a variety of injuries.
In some of these cases, Owen’s dissenting positions have been dismissive
of juries and of jury findings. For example, in one such case, Owen’s dissenting
position was criticized by other justices as an attempted "judicial sleight-of-hand
to circumvent" the Texas Constitution concerning jury trial rights. In other
cases, Owen would have ignored the plain meaning of statutes and read into statutes
provisions that were not there or nullified provisions that were there, effectively
rewriting the law. In one case, then-Justice Alberto Gonzales specifically criticized
an Owen dissent as an effort to "judicially amend" a Texas statute.
Other justices appointed by then-Governor Bush were also part of the Court majority
that rejected these dissents
"In numerous dissents as a Texas
Supreme Court Justice, Owen has taken positions that would have effectively rewritten
the law or disregarded the express language of the law, often to the detriment
of the rights and interests of ordinary Americans," the report concludes.
"The Senate Judiciary Committee should reject Priscilla Owen’s confirmation
to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit."
PFAW's Letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy in Opposition
to Owen's Appointment