Owen Confirmation Deals a Blow to Environmental Protections

Laws protecting clean air, clean water threatened


Glenn Sugameli, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500

The Senate voted to confirm Priscilla Owen to a lifetime seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals today by a vote of 56 to 43. Owen’s confirmation deals a blow to all those who value protections for clean air, clean water, wildlife and special natural places. Her nomination to the Fifth Circuit—which oversees appeals of environmental cases originating in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi—was widely opposed by public health, environmental and conservation groups.

“Anti-environmental judges like Priscilla Owen are the price the American people have to pay when President Bush refuses to consult with the Senate in a spirit of bipartisanship,” said Glenn Sugameli, Senior Legislative Counsel for Earthjustice. “It remains to be seen whether the president will heed the call of the bipartisan group of senators who have asked him to start paying attention to the ‘Advice’ part of the Constitution’s Advice and Consent Clause before nominating lifetime federal judges.”

The conservation community urged the Senate to reject Owen’s nomination to a federal judicial seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals because of her record of unwarranted opposition to fundamental environmental protections while serving as a Texas state judge. In particular, Justice Owen wrote opinions while serving on the Texas Supreme Court that demonstrated an unjustifiable disregard for the health and well being of people and the environment. In one case, she argued in a dissenting opinion that developers should be allowed to exempt themselves from statewide environmental protections. A majority of the court—including United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (then a Texas Supreme Court Justice)—noted that “[m]ost of Justice Owen’s dissent is nothing more than inflammatory rhetoric, and thus merits no response.”

Texas editorial boards have also concluded that Owen is unfit for a lifetime federal judgeship. A May 11, 2003 Houston Chronicle editorial entitled: “An Activist: Owen’s Record Gives Reason for Pause on Judicial Post,” stated “Owen’s judicial record shows less interest in impartiality interpreting the law than in pushing an agenda.” On July 21, 2002, the San Antonio Express-News’s editorial, “Bush court choice should be rejected,” stated, “her record demonstrates a results-oriented streak that belies supporters’ claims that she strictly follows the law. The Austin American-Statesman‘s April 29, 2003 editorial opined that Owen deserved a vote, but not confirmation.

Owen’s nomination to the Fifth Circuit should raise concerns from everyone who wants to preserve legal protections for clean air, clean water and special places. The conservation community has based opposition to Owen and other extreme nominees like William Myers III, Justice Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor on their records of anti-environmental activism and attacks on fundamental environmental safeguards designed by Congress to protect the health and welfare of all Americans. Additional information analyzing nominees’ records, including editorials, is available here

“As the Senate prepares a vote on Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor, we urge senators to remember what is at stake here,” Sugameli said. “These nominees would seek to overturn laws that protect our environment and our health. Appointments of activists like these would threaten the health and welfare of Americans for generations to come.”

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