Mr. President, today I join my colleagues to discuss the nomination of Priscilla Owen to the 5th Circuit Court.
Someone watching this debate on C-SPAN today might wonder why the Senate is spending so much time on a judicial nomination. They may watch all our discussions about circuit courts and wonder, “How does this affect me?”
Well the truth is it affects all of us. Our federal courts impact the opportunities, rights, and lives of every citizen, and that’s why the appointments to our courts must be made with great care.
Since the founding of our nation, our courts have changed our history -- helping us live up to our ideals as a society by protecting our rights, and defending our freedoms.
Our courts affect us at the broadest level – from interpreting environmental standards of clean air and clean water to guarding important safety and consumer protections.
And our courts have changed millions of lives at the individual level – by knocking down barriers. The courts have helped end the segregation of our schools, worked to stop discrimination, and protected the voting rights of citizens.
These decisions don’t just happen. They are made by people. And according to our Constitution, those people are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Today we are at an important step in that Constitutional process.
I care about our judges because I was elected to ensure that the people of my state have opportunities and protect their rights. That’s why I work on issues like healthcare, education and economic development – to give Washingtonians opportunities.
But those opportunities would mean nothing if the basic rights and freedoms of our citizens were undermined by judicial decisions.
This debate is also about the legacy we leave. As senators, our legacy is not just in the bills we pass or the laws we change. It’s in the people we approve to interpret those laws. Those judges serve lifetime appointments. The precedents they set – or break – will impact the opportunities of American citizens long after all of us are gone. So the debate we’re having today is part of a process that impacts the rights and freedoms of every American, and we have a responsibility under the Constitution to carry out our role in this is critical process.
Now some in the majority may suggest that this filibuster is somehow new or unique. M. President, it is neither. Every senator is familiar with the filibuster process. It is one of the many tools available to every Senator.
It’s been used for decades. It’s been used on judicial nominees. It’s even been used on a Supreme Court nominee.
In fact, the filibuster has been used on judicial nominees by members of the current majority party – this is nothing new.
At the same time, a filibuster is not a step we take often – or lightly – especially on judicial nominations, but I believe that in this case, it is clearly warranted.
As I look at what Americans expect from our judges, I see that this particular nominee falls far short. Not only that, but this nominee’s confirmation poses such a risk that the Senate must send a signal that we will not confirm judges who represent an attack on the basic rights and freedoms which the courts themselves must safeguard.
What are the qualities we look for in those who serve on the federal bench? Qualities like fairness, trust, experience, temperament, and the ability to represent all Americans and safeguard their rights. It is our duty in the Senate to defend these principles. We are setting no new precedent with this debate. We are simply exercising our rights as senators to defend the principles we believe we must defend.
And why do we feel so strongly about the nomination of Priscilla Owen?
Justice Owen’s record clearly illustrates that she fails the test of meeting the requirements that she be fair, that she engender trust, that she has the proper experience and temperament, or that she has the ability to represent all Americans and safeguard their rights.
Justice Owen has frequently ignored current Supreme Court precedent and state law in favor of imposing her own personal moral and religious beliefs from the bench.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s examine what others, including White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, have said about some of Justice Owens’s decisions.
Justice Owens is a vigorous dissenter, and her colleagues, including Justice Gonzales, have had a lot to say about her opinions.
In one, her colleagues described her dissent as – quote – “nothing more than inflammatory rhetoric.”
In another instance, Justice Gonzales wrote that Owen’s dissenting opinion, if enacted, “would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism.”
These are strong statements, and provide a window into what kind of Judge Priscilla Owen is and would be on the 5th Circuit.
It is the judgment of this senator that Priscilla Owen cannot render impartial justice to the people who appear before her court, that she will not seek to safeguard individual rights, and that her temperament is incompatible with serving on the 5th Circuit.
This is not an easy decision for me. Thus far, the Senate has confirmed – if my math is correct – 137 of President Bush’s judicial nominees. By any standard that is a notable record. We have tried hard to work with the Administration to fill court vacancies in a fair and thoughtful manner.
Unfortunately, by every measure, this nomination fails the test. If I agreed to put this judge on the 5th Circuit Court, I would not be doing my job of protecting the citizens I am here to represent.
Mr. President, this is a critical debate. It is worth the time it takes because the judges we appoint will affect the lives of millions of Americans.
We have a special responsibility here, let’s carry out that responsibility well because our legacy is not just in the laws we pass. It is also in the people we appoint who will interpret those laws over a lifetime. The precedents they will set or break will live on longer than any of us.