LCCR Applauds Senate Judiciary Panel for Rejecting Nomination of Priscilla Owen to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Media 09.5,02

Serious Concerns Existed About Owen’s
Political Agenda on the Bench

Contact: Julie Fernandes
(202) 263-2856

September 5, 2002 — Washington, D.C. Wade Henderson, Executive Director, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), issued the following statement today regarding the vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of Justice Priscilla Owen to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit:

We applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee for its rejection today of the nomination of Priscilla Owen to the Fifth Circuit. Justice Owen’s views on many important civil rights, women’s rights and labor issues are far outside the mainstream of judicial thought, and her nomination seriously called into question President Bush’s commitment to appoint federal judges who will interpret the law rather than make it. Today’s vote now gives President Bush another chance to deliver on his campaign promise; and we urge the Committee to continue insisting on more appropriate judicial nominees.

As we know, the federal courts are often called the guardians of the Constitution because their rulings protect the rights and liberties guaranteed by this most hallowed of documents. For many Americans, the federal judiciary is the first line of defense against violations of dearly held constitutional principles; for others, it is the last bastion of hope in a system that has marginalized, mistreated or simply ignored them.

The Leadership Conference strongly believes that the composition of the federal judiciary is a civil rights issue of profound importance to all Americans, because the individuals charged with dispensing justice in our society have a direct impact on civil rights protections for us all. As such, the federal judiciary must be perceived by the public as an instrument of justice, and the individuals who are selected for this branch of government must be the embodiment of fairness and impartiality.

Our exhaustive and careful review of Priscilla Owen’s public record as a Justice on the Texas Supreme Court left us with little alternative but to oppose her confirmation because of her extreme views on important civil rights, women’s rights and constitutional issues as well as her disturbing tendency to effectively rewrite or disregard the law in order to advance her own political agenda.

When taken together, Justice Owen’s track record rightly disqualified her from serious consideration for any federal Circuit, much less the important 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

It is especially important to note that we are discussing this nominee in the context of the Circuit to which he has been appointed. With Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, the Fifth Circuit has the largest percentage of people of color of any Circuit Court in the country. Unquestionably, much is at stake when it comes to civil rights.

Historically, the Fifth Circuit was the Circuit of “Unlikely Heroes,” who in the face of much opposition, issued scores of important opinions that in effect desegregated the South. Today, it is dramatically different. It is now one of the most hostile appellate courts in the country when it comes to civil rights. The Fifth Circuit is now the Hopwood Court that refused to apply Bakke to college admissions, impacting educational opportunities for minority students. It is now the Reeves Court that issued an opinion about the “intent” standard in employment discrimination cases so extreme it was overturned by the Supreme Court, 9-0. It is the LULAC v. Clements Court that held that the Voting Rights Act does not apply to at-large judicial elections; again, an opinion so extreme, it was reversed by the U.S. Supreme court.

After our careful review of Justice Owen’s record — on and off the bench — we were forced to conclude that she is unfit for the Fifth Circuit. This Circuit requires a jurist who will have a moderating influence on the Court. We are pleased the Senate Judiciary Committee considered all of these circumstances and exercised its constitutional prerogative to reject this nominee. And we implore President Bush to nominate judges in the future who are committed to vigorously defending civil rights.

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