DALLAS – Depending on who's doing the talking, Priscilla Owen is either a judge with a sound record of applying the law or one with a disturbing record of making the law to fit her political means.
Both characterizations will be spotlighted as the Texas judge faces her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday to sit on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Activists — including a host of feminist and abortion rights groups — have targeted Owen for her support of parental notification for teenage abortions.
"She is a judicial activist, and the Bush administration has clearly said they don't want a judicial activist," Lisa Payne, secretary of the Greater Dallas Area Coalition for Reproductive Freedom.
But supporters say critics are lining up to "Bork" Owen just as they had another of President Bush's judicial nominees, Judges Charles Pickering. "Borking" refers to skewering judicial nominees the same way activists undid the nomination of Judge Robert Bork during the Reagan administration.
"[Owen] was endorsed by every newspaper in Texas, liberal or conservative," charged Kelly Shackeleford, chief counsel for the Liberty Legal Institute. "She got a unanimous vote the highest possible from the American Bar Association for judges."
While the usual lines have indeed been drawn, surprise criticism of Owen has come from White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who served with her on the Texas Supreme Court. He cited her dissenting opinion in a parental notification for abortion case as amounting to "an unconscionable act of judicial activism."
"Priscilla Owen is outside of even the right wing of Texas politics," said Payne.
But Gonzales, who has been reportedly tapped as a future Supreme Court nominee by Bush, recently downplayed his remarks, saying he is confident that Owen will do her job in a way that is consistent with the president's legal philosophies.
"The only basis for that far-left attack on her would be that she would not legislate their left-wing political agenda from the bench, which is not the role judges should play anyway," said Shackelford.