Joe Conason's Journal

The stench of Enron spreads to a Bush judicial nominee.

By Salon Staff
Published July 19, 2002 2:59PM (EDT)

Leave no plutocrat behind
Enron is like a dead rat whose bad smell gradually infiltrates every room in the house. The smell in the White House keeps getting worse. Now even one of the presidents judicial nominees carries a whiff of that malodorous corporate corpse.

The nominee in question is Priscilla Owen, sent up by her old friend George W. for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Like nearly every prospective judge who passes the Bush litmus test, Owen strongly opposes abortion rights. Lawyers familiar with her work on the Texas high court consider her a mediocrity who slices up the law to suit her ideological disposition  one of those "activist" judges Bush supposedly dislikes, except from the other side of the aisle. She is a natural target for the liberal opposition to conservative court-packing, led by People for the American Way.

According to the PfAW report on Owen, she is predictably unsympathetic to workers and consumers, whose rights she regularly trampled in her opinions. But her heart almost always goes out to major corporations, notably those that helped finance her election campaigns . (Yes, in Texas even Supreme Court judges run for office and take money from lawyers and special interests that appear before them). Her political consultant of choice just happens to have been good ole Karl Rove.

Such systems breed gross ethical conflict -- even an appearance of corruption -- from which Owen is hardly exempt. Texans for Public Justice has compiled the specific details -- including case dockets, decisions and political contributions  of her career on the bench in a devastating report .

The only Supreme Court justice who took more money from business interests than Owen was Alberto Gonzales, now the Bush White House counsel. In 22 out of 26 cases involving her top business donors, she ruled in their favor. (She may thus feel quite comfortable on Capitol Hill when her nomination gets a hearing.)

Wondering where Enron comes into her sorry story? The TPJ report explains: "With its PAC and executives giving court members $134,558 since 1993, Enron Corp. was the justices biggest source of corporate donations. During this same period the justices received six Enron-related petitions for review. In three of them, Enrons adversaries sought Supreme Court review and the justices denied review every time. In contrast, the court granted review in two of the three cases in which Enron sought review (66 percent). This is an extraordinary record in a court that accepts just 11 percent of all petitions received. The court then issued opinions favoring Enron in both cases that it heard. Both opinions overturned lower appeals court rulings against Enron and both occurred in 1996, two years after Owen and consultant Karl Rove raised $8,600 from Enrons PAC and executives."

If you can afford justice in her court, its a very worthwhile investment. She wrote the opinion in a decision that permitted Enron to escape paying $224,989 in school taxes. Imagine what she could do to the law on the Fifth Circuit bench.
[Posted: 7:30 a.m. PDT, July 19, 2002]

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