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Delay likely in Senate panel vote on judge candidate

Owen testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Owen testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have put the controversial nomination of Priscilla Owen to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday's calendar, but the vote will likely be delayed until September under Senate rules.

Owen, a Texas Supreme Court justice, has been attacked by women's groups and Democrats, who say her rulings show a bias against abortion rights and consumer protection.

Republicans counter that Owen, who was questioned by the committee for about five hours last week, is not the extremist that Democrats portray -- and that the attacks on Owen are part of a partisan effort to keep President Bush's appellate court nominees off the bench.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, originally said he would not attempt to take action on Owen's nomination until September, after Congress returns from its summer recess. But two senior Democratic committee aides suggested the Democrats will attempt to bring the matter up for a vote Wednesday because they feel comfortable they have the votes to defeat Owen.

"You can infer where we are on the votes by the decision to bring it up," said one Democratic aide.

Another senior Democratic committee staffer mischievously suggested that the decision to put Owen's nomination on Wednesday's calendar was a response to Republican complaints that Democrats are delaying consideration of Bush's judicial nominees.

However, under committee rules, any senator can delay action on the nomination by one week. Sources tell CNN at least one senator will exercise that prerogative in fairness to Owen, who has not had time to respond to written questions she received from the committee Monday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, hears federal appellate cases from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. One of Bush's other nominees to the court, Charles Pickering of Mississippi, was rejected by the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote earlier this year.




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