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Public Statements

Executive Session

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

CONGRESSIONAL RECORD
SENATE
PAGE S14531
Nov. 12, 2003

Executive Session

NOMINATION OF PRISCILLA RICHMAN OWEN, OF TEXAS, TO BE UNITED STATES CIRCUIT JUDGE FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, my Democratic colleagues try to justify their unprecedented filibusters of President Bush's nominees by arguing that they want mainstream judges and that President Bush's nominees do not fit that criteria. Mainstream judges-I am a little puzzled by that assertion. I would think, for example, that Priscilla Owen is in the mainstream. She was rated unanimously well qualified by the ABA. She was endorsed by the past 16 Texas Bar Association presidents, both Democrats and Republicans. She has been twice elected to statewide judicial office in Texas, one of the States where they elect judges, and the last time, interestingly enough, she got 84 percent of the vote-unanimously well qualified by the ABA; supported by 16 presidents of the State bar of Texas, Democrats and Republicans, and gets 84 percent of the vote. Sounds like mainstream to me. Yet Democrats filibustered her nomination because of her interpretation of a Texas law saying minor girls could not have an abortion without their parents being notified-not consent but merely notified.

After all, school nurses need a parent's consent to dispense an aspirin to a child. Should not a parent be entitled to a simple notification when their child seeks an abortion? Over 80 percent of Americans think they should. That is a very mainstream notion.

So I was astonished that Democrats would say she was not "in the mainstream," and, frankly, I think the American public would be astonished by such a conclusion that a person so ruling would not be in the mainstream. But "mainstream," of course, is a relative term.

To help the American people understand the Democrats' view, we should look at some of the Clinton judges my Democratic colleagues have supported. Upon doing so, it should be pretty clear that the Democrats' view of mainstream is colored by the fact that they are sitting on the far left bank.

[Page S14536]

Clinton class of 1994, Judge Shira Scheindlin, a get-out-of-jail-free card for terrorist sympathizers. In the days after 9/11, Federal agents did their job by detaining a material witness to the 9/11 attacks, a Jordanian named Osama Awadallah. Osama knew two of the 9/11 hijackers and met with one at least 40 times. His name was found in the car parked at the Dulles Airport by one of the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, and photos of his better known name's sake, Osama bin Laden, were found in Osama Awadallah's apartment.

Under the law, a material witness may be detained if he or she has relevant information and is a flight risk. The Justice Department thought Osama met both of those tests. While detained, he was indicted for perjury. But Judge Shira Scheindlin, a 1994 Clinton nominee, dismissed the perjury charges and released this man on the street. Her reason? She ruled that the convening of a Federal grand jury investigating a crime was not a criminal proceeding, and therefore it was unconstitutional to detain this Mr. Awadallah.

This was quite a surprise to Federal prosecutors who, for decades, had used the material witness law in the context of grand jury proceedings for everyone from mobsters to mass murderer Timothy McVeigh. So much for following well-settled law.

If anyone wants to read a good article about this case, I recommend the Wall Street Journal editorial from last year entitled "Osama's Favorite Judge." It notes that thanks to Judge Scheindlin, this fellow is out on bail. We wonder how he is spending his time.

Just last Friday, the Second Circuit reversed Judge Scheindlin. The appellate court seemed quite puzzled that she would release this man given his obvious connection to terrorists. The Second Circuit held that his detention as a material witness was a scrupulous and constitutional use of the Federal material witness statute.

It is too bad Judge Scheindlin did not act in a similarly scrupulous fashion. Nevertheless, to Democrats she is probably "in the mainstream."

Let us take a look at the Clinton class of 1995, Judge Jed Rakoff. One of Judge Scheindlin's colleagues, a 1995 Clinton nominee, has ruled that the Federal death penalty is unconstitutional in all instances.

Now, some of my colleagues may share this position, but their views differ from the majority of Americans. When Judge Rakoff acts on his personal views, it is a very clear failure to follow Supreme Court precedent. Indeed, Judge Rakoff's rulings so brazenly violated precedent that even the Washington Post, which is against the death penalty as a policy matter, came out against his decision as gross judicial activism.

In an editorial entitled "Right Answer, Wrong Branch," the Post noted that the fifth amendment specifically contemplates capital punishment three separate times. The Post noted:

[T]he Supreme Court has been clear that it regards the death penalty as constitutional. . . . The High Court has, in fact, rejected far stronger arguments against capital punishment. . . . Individual district judges may not like this jurisprudence, but it is not their place to find ways around it. The arguments Judge Rakoff makes should, rather, be embraced and acted upon in the legislative arena. The death penalty must be abolished, but not because judges beat a false confession out of the Fifth Amendment.

Another editorial, this one from the Wall Street Journal entitled "Run for Office, Judge," said as follows:

It hardly advances th[e] highly-charged debate [on capital punishment] to have a Federal judge allude to Members of Congress who support capital punishment as murderers. If Judge Rakoff wants to vote against the death penalty, he ought to resign from the bench and run for Congress or the state legislature, where the Founders thought such debates belonged.

Judge Rakoff's ruling would prevent the application of the death penalty against mass murderers like Timothy McVeigh or Osama bin Laden. I guess Judge Rakoff is the kind of mainstream judge the Democrats would like to see on the bench.

There have also been some interesting rulings from the Ninth Circuit, finding the right to long distance procreation for prisoners. My friends on the other side believe very strongly in a living and breathing constitution. They also believe that the rule of law should not be confined to the mere words of the document and the Framers' intent. To them, those are anachronistic concepts. I was truly surprised, however, to read what a panel of the Ninth Circuit had tried to breath into the Constitution.

Three-time felon William Geber is serving a life sentence for, among other things, making terroristic threats. Unhappy with how prison life was interfering with his social life, Mr. Gerber alleged he had a constitutional right to procreate via artificial insemination.

A California district court rejected Mr. Gerber's claim. A split-decision of the Ninth circuit, though, reversed. Infamous Carter-appointee Stephen Rhinehardt joined President Johnson's appointee, Myron Bright, to conclude that yes, the farmers had indeed intended for "the right to procreate to survive incarceration."

In his dissent, Judge Barry Silverman-a Clinton appointee who was recommended by Senator Kyl-wrote that "This is a seminal case in more ways in one" because "the majority simply does not accept the fact that there are certain downsides to being confined in prison." One of them is "the interference with a normal family life."

Judge Silverman noted that while the Constitution protects against forced sterilization, that hardly establishes "a constitutional right to procreate from prison via FedEx." The Ninth Circuit, en banc, reversed this decision, but only barely. And it did so against the wishes of Clinton appointees Tashima, Hawkins, Paez and Berzon, who dissented from the en banc ruling.

If anyone wants to read more about this case, I'd recommend George Will's piece entitled, "Inmates and Proud Parents." If there ever was a circuit in need of some moderation, balance, and ideological diversity, it is the Ninth Circuit. It is made up of 17 Democrat appointees, but only 10 Republican appointees.

It is the Nation's largest circuit, covering nine states and 51 million people. It is also reversed far and away more than any other circuit. Indeed, it is reversed so often-from 1996-2000, the Supreme court reversed it 77 out of 90 times-it is known as a "rogue" circuit. This has forced its representatives to introduce legislation to allow their States to secede from the Ninth Circuit.

But my Democrat colleagues probably won't give Ninth Circuit nominee Carolyn Kuhl the simple dignity of an up or down vote. Evidently she is not as "mainstream" as all these Democrat judges.

If these Democrat judges represent the "mainstream," then quite frankly, I am glad the Democrats think that Priscilla Owen, Carolyn Kuhl, and Janis Rogers Brown aren't in it. Unlike these Democrat judges, I am confident these women will follow precedent and act with commonsense.

The Senate should, as it did with Judge Paez, Judge Berzon, and other controversial Democrat nominees, give these women the simple dignity of an up or down vote.

I yield the floor.

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