Priscilla Owen – Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

Owen was confirmed.

Owen Was Voted Down By Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee, Then Re-Nominated After GOP Took Control. According to CBS News, “President Bush has renominated two controversial choices for appellate court judgeships – Charles Pickering of Mississippi and Priscilla Owen of Texas – both of whom who were rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate last year. Pickering and Owen’s nominations were returned to the Senate on Tuesday along with 28 other judicial nominations who were not considered by the full Senate last year. Pickering and Owen, however, were the only two who were specifically rejected last year by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.” [CBS News, 5/7/09]

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Owen “Shows Less Interest In Impartially Interpreting The Law Than In Pushing An Agenda.” According to a Houston Chronicle editorial, “Earlier this month, 44 U.S. senators refused to go along on a vote that would have ended a filibuster on the nomination of Priscilla Owen to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Good. Owen’s judicial record shows less interest in impartially interpreting the law than in pushing an agenda. The problem is not that Owen is ‘too conservative,’ as some of her critics complain, but that she too often contorts rulings to conform to her particular conservative outlook. It’s saying something that Owen is a regular dissenter on a Texas Supreme Court made up mostly of other conservative Republicans.” [Houston Chronicle, 5/12/03]

Karl Rove Elevated Owen To Texas Supreme Court. According to the New York Times, “Justice Owen was, by all accounts, a respected but little-known lawyer in Houston in 1994 when she was first elected to the State Supreme Court with Mr. Rove’s support and tutelage. Her experience up to then largely involved obscure legal cases involving pipelines and federal energy regulations. At the time, Mr. Rove was helping to make over the Texas Supreme Court from a bench populated by Democrats widely viewed as favorable to the plaintiffs’ bar – the lawyers who sue companies – to the business-friendly Republican stronghold it is today.” [New York Times, 5/16/05]

While Serving With Owens On Texas Supreme Court, Bush Counsel Alberto Gonzales Repeatedy Accused Owens Of Judicial Activism. According to Salon, “As the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way has documented, in the span of less than two years then-Justice Gonzales singled out Owen’s dissents 11 times, accusing her of ignoring the legislative intent of laws and instead struggling to manufacture an outcome. […] In several decisions concerning Texas’ Parental Notification Act, the Gonzales-led majority rejected the views of Owen and the other dissenters who regularly tried to make it harder for pregnant girls to obtain what’s known in Texas as a ‘judicial bypass,’ meaning they didn’t have to inform their parents before having an abortion. The majority scolded Owen, insisting that judges ‘cannot ignore the statute or the record,’ or try to create new law. In a harmful-product case, Gonzales wrote that Owen’s dissent (in favor of the manufacturer) would have required the court to act improperly and ‘judicially amend’ the law. In a wrongful-termination case, the Gonzales majority, which found in favor of a fired employee, criticized Owen’s dissent, saying it ‘defies the Legislature’s clear and express limits on our jurisdiction,’ adding, ‘We cannot simply ignore the legislative limits on our jurisdiction.’ When not specifically accusing Owen of judicial activism, Gonzales and other members of the majority were dissing her legal thinking, waving off one dissent as ‘nothing more than inflammatory rhetoric and thus merits no response.’ But it was Gonzales’ now infamous putdown accusing Owen of ‘an unconscionable act of judicial activism’ that has hung like an anchor around the judge’s neck. The reprimand came in yet another parental notification case, a string of which dominated Texas Supreme Court headlines during its 2000 session. Once again, Owen in her dissent felt the girl in the case needed to do more to obtain a judicial bypass, saying she didn’t think the minor had been adequately informed about the alternatives to abortion.” [Salon, 5/3/05]

Nearly Half Of Houston Bar Association Members Rated Owen’s Work In Texas “Poor.” According to Salon, “The American Bar Association rated Owen well qualified, but she received much lower marks from members of her local Houston Bar Association. According to its 2003 survey of Texas jurists, the most recent poll available from the association, just 43 percent labeled her work ‘outstanding,’ and 47 percent thought her performance on the bench was ‘poor.’ Hers was the highest ‘poor’ rating of any of the justices on the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court. Interestingly, Owen received her lowest marks in response to the question asking whether she was ‘impartial and open-minded with respect to determining the legal issues.’” [Salon, 5/3/05]

Owen Is An Abortion Rights Opponent “No Matter What The Law Says.” According to the Chicago Tribune, “Most controversial has been Owen’s position on abortion. Opponents say she votes without exception against abortion rights, no matter what the law says on the subject, and they note her forceful opposition to allowing minors to get abortions without parental notification.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/24/02]

Owen Wanted To Require Minors Seeking Parental Notification Exemptions To Prove They Understand Religious Objections To Abortion. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The most noted example was a series of rulings in 2000 on the state’s parental notification law for minors’ abortions. That law allows a pregnant girl under 18 to avoid notifying her parents if she persuades a judge she is mature and sufficiently well-informed about the consequences of abortions, an exemption Owen has voted almost invariably to deny. In the first such case, she said a young woman seeking an abortion should have to show that she understands religious objections, a requirement upheld in other states but one that is not part of the Texas statute.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 5/18/05]

Owen Took Enron Money And Then Authored An Opinion Lowering The Company’s Taxes. According to the Center for American Progress, “Priscilla Owen…took thousands of dollars worth of campaign contributions from Enron and then wrote a key opinion reducing Enron’s taxes by $15 million when she sat on the Texas Supreme Court.” [Center for American Progress, 12/15/10]

On Texas Supreme Court, Owen Sought Special Benefits For Campaign Donor. According to Mother Jones, “Owen consistently distinguished herself as one of the conservative court’s most strident conservatives. In one decision, Owen argued unsuccessfully in support of a water-quality exemption tailored for an Austin land developer who had given $2,500 to her campaign. The court majority dismissed her contention as ‘nothing more than inflammatory rhetoric.’” [Mother Jones, November-December 2003]

Owen Often Argued For Decisions Benefitting Business. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Her current foes include advocates for civil rights, consumers and labor, who accuse Owen of steadfastly promoting the positions of the business groups that helped put her in office. When the conservative court issues one of its infrequent rulings against a business, opponents say, Owen generally joins the dissenters. One ruling, in 1998, upheld damages for a man who was severely injured by a light truck tire that exploded while he was inflating it. The dissent Owen signed said the man had ignored the manufacturer’s warnings; the majority said the warnings did not excuse the tire’s unsafe design. She also dissented from a 1998 ruling holding a vacuum cleaner company liable for a door-to-door salesman’s rape of a customer and from a 2000 decision striking down a state law that exempted a landowner from local clean-water requirements.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 5/18/05]