Disaster Averted, But at What Cost?

In a scene reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, moderate Republicans and pro-corporate Democrats came together at the eleventh hour last night to reach a compromise averting “nuclear option catastrophe” in the Senate. On the surface it would appear that the 14 Senators, seven Republicans and seven Democrats, have done the wise thing by throwing out partisan politics in favor of a compromise that will keep the minority-rights rules of the Senate in tact. But is the deal really all it is cracked up to be?

Immediately after the deal was struck the Democratic leadership proclaimed victory. It is undeniable that maintaining the ability of a minority party to filibuster is something that sets our Democracy apart from totalitarian rule. Had the radical right wing of the Republican party got their way it would have been tantamount to strict one party rule, which is simply intolerable in these United States of America. Unfortunately, in order to make the deal happen the seven Democrats agreed not to filibuster three of the five judicial nominees President Bush had returned to the Senate for a vote.

One of these nominees, Priscilla R. Owen, is simply a bad choice for the American people. Owen, who prior to her election was a extreme right-wing Federalist Society lawyer, began her judicial career by winning a seat as the most right wing of the ultra-conservative Texas Supreme Court with the help of her paid campaign consultant Karl Rove. Once on the court Owen was cited repeatedly by then Texas Supreme Court justice (and current Attorney General) Alberto Gonzales as attempting to rewrite law instead of interpret it. The National Council of Jewish Women, who opposes Owen’s nomination, said this about her;

In six different cases, she voted to deny a teenaged girl permission to forego parental notification prior to seeking an abortion. In one such case, she objected strenuously to the majority’s effort to expedite such a case, even though a timely decision meant the minor could undergo a simpler abortion procedure than if the decision were delayed. Her objections were cited by then-fellow conservative Texas Supreme Court justice Alberto Gonzales as “an unconscionable act of judicial activism.”

Even more alarming is her tendency to side with big business donors over individuals in cases that come before her. PHXnews has a great piece that breaks down her record that I will quote here;

THE CORPORATE CONNECTION: There has been a good deal of coverage of Owen’s anti-choice stance but her pro-business leanings may be as bad. In 2003, the Austin-American Statesman declared that Owen could “usually be counted upon in any important case that pitted an individual or group of individuals against business interests to side with business.” Furthermore, she had a questionably ethical tendency to take “campaign contributions from law firms and corporations and then, without recusing herself, [rule] in their favor when their cases came before her.” Owen’s rulings are considered so business-friendly and tainted that a member of the National Employment Lawyers Association once quipped, “In my more cynical moments, I suggest that, just as sports stadiums are now named after corporations, judicial seats are soon to follow. In that vein, I believe that Justice Owen could well fill the Exxon/Mobil or Wal-Mart seat on the Fifth Circuit.”

THE ENRON AND HALLIBURTON CASES: Two notable past corporate-friendly cases ruled on by Owen involve very publicly known corporations: Halliburton and Enron. Both of which had donated to Owen’s judicial campaign. In the case of Sanchez v. Halliburton, a Halliburton field worker “won a $2.6 million verdict after the jury found that a company supervisor had framed him to test positive for cocaine.” After an appeals court ruling overturned the verdict, Sanchez tried to bring the case to the Texas Supreme Court. In the months during which the case was before the Court, Halliburton made its only campaign donations to Texas Supreme Court justices that year, giving thousands of dollars to three justices: Priscilla Owen, Nathan Hect, and Alberto Gonzales.

Result: the court declined to hear the case and the ruling overturning Sanchez’s case stood. In Enron Corp. v. Spring Independent School District, Owen “authored the opinion for a unanimous court [decision] that saved Enron $225,000 and resulted in lost revenue for the school district.” It’s called bribery.

In short, in their effort to avoid nuclear catastrophe, Senate moderates have agreed to give a lifetime appointment to this highly flawed Federalist Judge. Their actions may have saved the Senate from a rules change and kept the country from immediately becoming a one party state, but the compromise is dubious at best and poses a serious threat to the rights of individual U.S. citizens. Is that the best they could do?

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