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'Constitutional crisis' may be ahead for Senate

Published: Fri, April 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.

Republicans have considered changing a rule that would prevent judicial filibusters.


WASHINGTON -- A divided Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday sent two controversial appeals court nominees toward a showdown vote in the Senate, setting the stage for what Democrats described as a looming "constitutional crisis" over President Bush's judicial nominations.

With Democrats forming a solid wall of dissent, the Republican-dominated committee voted 10-8 to revive the long-dormant nominations of Priscilla Owen of Texas and Janice Rogers Brown of California. The two were blocked by threatened Democratic filibusters during the last session of Congress.

The action propels the Senate toward a volatile, partisan confrontation, with Republicans contemplating a rules change that would prohibit further judicial filibusters and enable Bush to win Senate confirmation of his embattled court appointees. Democrats describe the rules change as a "nuclear option" and are threatening to slow down Senate business if Republicans persist.

"This is an important and historic meeting," declared Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "We're in the ramp-up to a great constitutional crisis."

Republicans, who have a majority in the 100-member Senate, say the time has come to end what they describe as politically motivated obstructionist tactics by Democrats and sustain the president's right to send his nominees to the bench.

Democrats, in turn, say they have helped confirm 205 judicial nominees but object to a handful who are either unqualified or too extreme to hold lifetime judicial appointments.

Owen, a Texas Supreme Court justice nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, has been held up for nearly four years amid Democratic allegations that she injected anti-abortion sentiments into her opinions and consistently handed down rulings that penalized consumers and favored big business.

Her supporters dismiss those characterizations as groundless, describing the former Houston attorney as fair-minded and more than qualified. The American Bar Association gave Owen its highest recommendation in examining her qualifications for nomination.


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