Contentious Nomination Vote Expected

A Bush administration judicial nominee who has been pummeled by liberal groups and stridently defended by Republicans may find her fate in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

While members were still discussing if they would place the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the federal bench's 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals at the Thursday mark-up schedule, committee sources said a vote was likely.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican member of the committee, said he expected the vote. He also urged his colleagues not to turn the judicial appointment process into an ideological litmus test.

"I cannot say strongly enough how important this vote is for the future of the judiciary and this Senate," said Hatch. "With the attempt by some to introduce ideology and base politics into the confirmations process, today a sword of Damocles hangs over the future of nominations."

Owen's critics, led by groups like People for the American Way and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League, began attacking her nomination this summer over a 1999 opinion she wrote against an exemption for a 17-year-old girl who wanted to get an abortion without parental notification.

Her opinion at the time was criticized by Judge Alberto Gonzalez, who served with her on the court and is now White House Counsel. He has since softened his tone, though her critics have used his words more than once to emphasize their arguments against her.

"The record is clear that Owen is a right-wing activist committed to remaking the law according to her own ideology," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, shortly after her nomination hearing in late July.

Neas and others are disturbed by Owen's record on abortion, and say she has engaged in pro-corporate and anti-consumer activism while on the Texas bench.

Owen, who has served on the state Supreme Court since 1994, has nonetheless received a unanimous "well-qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, something her critics are quick to point out.

"Justice Owen has been attacked with orchestrated deceptions, distortions and demagoguery, yet she has the American Bar Association's unanimous rating of "well qualified," Hatch reminded his colleagues Wednesday.

The vote is expected to be split along strict party lines. The committee is divided between 10 Democrats and nine Republicans, meaning Owen needs only one Democrat to join what appears to be unanimous GOP support for her.