Stage Set for Owen Vote

Priscilla Owen (search), one of President Bush's first judicial nominees after he won the White House, will after four years of waiting likely be the first to be confirmed under an agreement worked out Monday to avoid a confrontation over Senate filibusters.

The Texas Supreme Court justice, reached by phone by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (search), R-Texas, soon after the agreement was reached, said it had been a hard process and she was grateful it was finally coming to an end, Hutchison's aides said.

Bush nominated her for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search), based in New Orleans, but she was repeatedly blocked by Democrats who labeled her an ultraconservative activist and faulted her rulings against consumers, working people and minors who want abortions.

The agreement worked out by Republican and Democratic moderates would prevent the GOP leadership from going ahead with steps to eliminate the Democrats' rights to filibuster judicial nominations. The Democrats pledged that they would avoid using their filibuster right except in extraordinary circumstances.

Under the deal, it was also agreed that votes would proceed on William H. Pryor Jr., for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, and Janice Rogers Brown for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Bush gave Pryor, the former Alabama attorney general, a temporary recess appointment in 2003 and renominated him for a lifetime seat on the court. Democrats have objected to his comments and writings on abortion and homosexuality.

Brown, an African-American member of the California Supreme Court, has also been blocked by Democrats for nearly three years for what they say is her conservative activism.

Those signing the agreement made no commitment to end the filibusters that have blocked votes on Henry Saad and William Myers III.

Myers, nominated for the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, based in San Francisco, is a former Interior Department solicitor who is opposed by Democrats and environmentalists for what they say was an anti-environment agenda at Interior.

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Saad, nominee for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ran into trouble because Michigan's two Democratic senators were angry that the GOP-controlled Senate never gave a confirmation hearing to President Clinton's nominees to the court.

Two other pending circuit court nominees, Richard Griffin for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and David McKeague for the same court, were not named in the agreement. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he now expected both to be confirmed.