Trio of Theocrats Appointed to Courts for Life

The so-called filibuster compromise,” ironed out by a nonpartisan team in the U.S. Senate on May 23, ensured the hasty approval of the three most reactionary of Bush’s seven stalled judicial nominees: California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, Alabaman William Pryor, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen. Democrats previously had blocked the nominations with the threat of a filibuster.

Janice Rogers Brown

Brown, 56, won May approval in the U.S. Senate for the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

She gave an inflammatory speech on April 24 to a gathering of Roman Catholic professionals on the same day that “Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith” was being simulcast by evangelicals over the Internet to churches around the country and religious networks.

Coverage of her unpublished address to Catholics at a diocese-sponsored annual “Red Mass” in Darien, Conn.,–held for Catholic lawyers, judges and other legal professionals–was covered by the Stamford Advocate, in turn quoted by The Los Angeles Times (April 26, 2005). Both Robert Bork and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia have previously addressed the diocese’s breakfast.

According to press accounts, Brown said:

“These are perilous times for people of faith, not in the sense that we are going to lose our lives, but in the sense that it will cost you something if you are a person of faith who stands up for what you believe in and say those things out loud.”

She added: “When we move away from that [America’s so-called religious traditions], we change our whole conception of the most significant idea that America has to offer, which is this idea of human freedom and this notion of liberty.”

Brown said atheism “handed human destiny over to the great god, autonomy, and this is quite a different idea of freedom . . . . Freedom then becomes willfulness.”

The California State Bar twice rated Brown as unqualified for office at the state Supreme Court level. Her controversial decisions include defending the use of an electric “stun belt” for unruly criminal defendants in courtrooms, and voting against age discrimination protections.

William H. Pryor

Pryor, who is only 43, as Alabama Attorney General, acted as one of former Judge Roy Moore’s greatest cheerleaders during the Alabama saga involving the stealth planting of a Ten Commandments marker in the Alabama State Supreme Court. Although Moore lost his judicial position over the battle, Pryor backed him until the end, when Pryor finally prosecuted Moore for refusing to comply with numerous court orders to remove the biblical edict.

Pryor, in a notorious court brief, once compared same-sex relations to bestiality and necrophilia.

The Roman Catholic Pryor also called Roe v. Wade, the decision legalizing abortion throughout the nation, “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” During the confirmation hearing, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., asked Pryor if he regretted the “abomination” remark. He did not.

Pryor was confirmed by a vote of 53 to 45 in the U.S. Senate on June 9 to a position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, 16 months after Pres. Bush put him on the bench temporarily when Congress was out of session.

Pryor once ended a speech with the prayer, “Please, God, no more Souters,” in reference to Justice David H. Souter.

Priscilla Owen

Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, nominated by Bush four years ago, was the first of the three disputed nominees to be confirmed. A member of the notorious Federalist Society, Owen, 50, was appointed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, already considered the worst appellate district by civil libertarians.

A corporate attorney in gas and oil, she first ran for the state Supreme Court in 1994 as a protg of Karl Rove, now White House adviser. Among her controversial decisions is a dissent in 2000 in an abortion rights case, in which she wrote that a teenager does not have the right to an abortion without parental notification, regardless of circumstances.

Owen, who received a 45.3% “poor” rating in the annual evaluation by Houston attorneys, is the only state Supreme Court justice to receive such a low score.

Owen is famously a Sunday school teacher and tender of the altar at St. Barnabas the Encourager Evangelical Covenant Church in Austin, which split last year from the Episcopal Church over disapproval of the ordination of a gay bishop.

Freedom From Religion Foundation