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Sept. 10, 2002
Priscilla Owen’s Rejection Says More About Gonzales Than About Her 
Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen’s nomination for the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals was rejected last Thursday on a party-line vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The ten Democrats on the committee once again played hardball, not allowing the highly qualified Owen, who received unanimous “highly qualified” approval from the American Bar Association, the opportunity to have her nomination voted up or down by the full Senate.

Of course, the issue was abortion. The liberal Democrats seem to care more about stopping any perceived threat to legal abortion, no matter how remote, than just about anything else. Notwithstanding the fact that nobody knows whether or not Priscilla Owen is pro-life, the fact that she wrote a dissent in a Texas case in which a 17-year-old minor seeking an abortion was denied a judicial bypass by the trial court and again by the appeals court was enough to put the pro-abortion lobby and their friends in the Senate into high gear. The Supreme Court disagreed with the two lower courts and granted the bypass so the girl could get an abortion behind her parents’ backs. Justice Owen and two other justices dissented, interpreting the intent of the Legislature in passing the Texas Parental Notification law as actually wanting parents to be notified of their minor daughter’s intention to have an abortion, except in rare circumstances.

In her dissent, Justice Owen wrote that the majority of the Court “has usurped the role of the trial court, reweighed the evidence and drawn its own conclusion.” She said, “Under well-settled Texas law, the court may not disturb a trial judge’s findings unless no reasonable person could have reached the same conclusion.” “The question in this case is not,” she wrote, “whether this court would have ruled differently when confronted with all the evidence that the trial court heard. The question is whether legally sufficient evidence supports the trial court’s judgment. The answer to this latter question is yes.”

Then, Owen’s colleague on the Court, former justice and now White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales who had joined with the majority in the case, weighed in with a stinging response that was largely responsible for Justice Owen’s defeat last week. According to a column by Terry Eastland in the Washington Times on July 23, 2002, Gonzales said, “To construe [the act] so narrowly as to eliminate bypasses, or to create hurdles that simply are not to be found in the words of the state, would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism” – one he said he wouldn’t engage in. By implication, the dissenting justices advancing the narrower interpretation [of the Parental Notification Law] stood accused of just that.

" . . . an unconscionable act of judicial activism.” Those words killed Priscilla Owen’s nomination before her hearing ever commenced. The Democrats seized on it like dogs on a bone.

Alberto Gonzales has been frequently mentioned as a possible Bush nominee to a federal bench or even the Supreme Court, should an opening occur. Pro-life Americans should not forget his role in both the Texas Supreme Court case and Priscilla Owen’s ordeal. It is not known whether Priscilla Owen believes the right to life of unborn children should be respected and protected or whether she approached the parental notification bill as purely a parental rights issue. We do know where Alberto Gonzales stands. If President Bush nominates Gonzales to a federal bench or the high Court, pro-life, pro-family, and pro-parental-rights conservatives have ample reason to oppose his nomination.


Republican National
Coalition for Life


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