Views Differ on Owen's Judicial Opinions

Published May 09, 2005

| Associated Press

Monday marks the fourth anniversary of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen's (search) first nomination to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a place where Democrats, who are willing to filibuster Owen, say she must never end up.

Republicans say Owen is one of the most qualified nominees before the Senate. But the charge from Democrats and their supporters is that Owen is a dangerous right-wing judicial activist — the kind of jurist President Bush claims to oppose.

"Priscilla Owen has, in fact, a career which demonstrates a kind of insensitivity to issues and values that most Americans share," said Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights.

John Hill, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court where Owen serves, disagrees.

"I think she is a restrained, moderate type of judge that tries to find the law," Hill told FOX News.

Critics charge that Owen's opinions reveal an anti-abortion bias and, they say, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (search) blasted her when the two served on the Texas Supreme Court together.

"Not once, not five times, but 10 times Alberto Gonzales said that Priscilla Owen was a judicial activist," said People for the American Way President Ralph Neas.

Gonzales denies the claim, saying he never directly attacked Owen. But liberals point to a case in 2000 where a minor who lived at home with her parents — the court called her "Jane Doe" — sought a court exemption to state law requiring her to tell her parents she was having an abortion.

Gonzales joined a 6-3 ruling granting the exemption — called a "bypass" in court lingo — even though the trial and appeals courts ruled the evidence required the girl to inform her parents.

"To construe the parental notification act so narrowly as to eliminate bypasses, or to create hurdles that simply are not to be found in the words of the statute, would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism," Gonzales wrote in his opinion of the case.

Democrats routinely cite this passage to suggest Gonzales couldn't abide Owen's judicial philosophy, but supporters call the citation misdirected.

"That's just a phony charge, and the reference to General Gonzales' comments in that opinion are just a red herring," Hill said.

In fact, Gonzales' opinion did single out a justice, but it wasn't Owen. It was Justice Nathan Hecht.

"Justice Hecht charges that our decision demonstrates the court's determination to construe the Parental Notification Act (search) as the court believes the act should be construed and not as the legislature intended. I respectfully disagree," Gonzales wrote.

Owen's dissent in the case accused the court of ignoring testimony that the girl didn't want to tell her parents about the abortion because it would "upset them" and that it might jeopardize future college support, not the legal standard Owen wrote that the law required.

"It is the court who has acted irresponsibly in this case by summarily rendering judgment without careful consideration of the record, by manufacturing reasons to support its actions and by ignoring evidence that supports the trial court's judgment," she wrote.

The American Bar Association unanimously rated Owen as "well-qualified." She is the first nominee so rated ever denied an up-or-down confirmation vote.

FOX News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.

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http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/05/09/views-differ-on-owen-judicial-opinions