Joe Conason's Journal

A hearing goes poorly, and prospects dim for a Bush nominee. Plus: Ann Coulter, foiled again!

By Salon Staff
Published July 23, 2002 2:52PM (EDT)

Pinocchio in a miniskirt
Ann Coulter fans, and I use the term loosely, must proceed immediately to the Daily Howler. In this installment of his ongoing series about her and her best-selling compilation of fabrications, Bob Somerby provides further details of the flagrant disregard for facts that has always made Ann so special. As described in todays Howler, what appears on her books final page is either a mistake that only a moron could make, or a lie that only a madwoman would tell in public. (I know because I re-checked Somerbys facts, which took me all of 30 seconds.) To read this Howler item is like watching Pinocchio hooked up to a polygraph. I dont want to spoil it by summarizing it here. Go read it, and then ponder what punishment her editors at Crown Books have earned.

Owen Nomination Sinking?
Prospects for Priscilla Owens confirmation are in doubt following this afternoons hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not long before the hearing adjourned, Sen. Feinstein politely excoriated the Texas Supreme Court judge who is up for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals, saying repeatedly that she was "deeply troubled" by the judges record. Observers on Capitol Hill believe that a committee vote on Owens is likely to be put off until after the August recess.

Russ Feingold questioned Owen closely about one of the various corrupting practices in her court, where clerks routinely receive "signing bonuses" from law firms while still working on cases that involve those same firms. Patrick Leahy asked the judge about her failure to disclose to parties before her when one side had donated money to her campaign. She replied that there is no such disclosure requirement.

"There's no evidence whatsoever that Enron was given favorable treatment in cases before you," insisted Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Coming from the Kentucky Republican, thats a highly incriminating remark; hes the fundraising prodigy who sees no evil in the soft-money system.

A Texan reader writes to inform me that Owen couldnt recuse herself from cases involving her big corporate donors because "judges aren't allowed to do so in Texas." That is an arguable point, according to Chris Feldman, counsel to the nonpartisan watchdogs at Texans for Public Justice. "Of course they can recuse themselves," he explained. "But they dont have to." Since there is no specific requirement, the judges rely on their canonical obligation to "act on all cases" as an excuse to avoid recusal. If they did recuse when donor interests were at stake, as TPJ has often urged them to do, the whole compromised system would crumble. The customs of the court have developed to protect major interests and deprive the average Texan of justice. There would be no judges available to rule on many important consumer, environmental, tax and tort cases. What Owen and her colleagues routinely do to the average Texan makes me wonder whether that would really be so terrible.
[Posted: 1:20 p.m. PDT, July 23, 2002]

The Owen test
Today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the judicial nomination of Priscilla Owen is a test for Dianne Feinstein, among others. The California Democrat will chair the session as it delves into Owen's dubious record on the Texas Supreme Court and her fitness for elevation to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Feinstein is under pressure from Republicans to prove she isn't an "obstructionist," and particularly from a personal friend, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Feinstein's decision is also the subject of strong editorials today in her home state, in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times. Both are demanding that she reject Bush's attempt to pack the courts with extremist, anti-choice judges.

Just as objectionable as Owen's jurisprudence, however, is her lack of ethical sense. Her record as a tool of major corporations such as Enron, which wrote big checks to her campaign account, ought to be equally troubling to Feinstein and her colleagues. That record should be particularly bothersome to Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., the campaign-finance crusader who never hesitates to speak up on that issue. Feingold often breaks ranks with his party to back Bush nominees, exhibiting his respect for presidential prerogative. It will be interesting to see how Feingold reconciles his principles this time -- and whether even he has the courage to question Owen about her failure to recuse herself from cases involving her contributors.
[Posted: 7:55 a.m. PDT, July 23, 2002]

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Salon Staff

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