The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
July 23, 2002

Press Briefing Excerpt by Ari Fleischer 07/23/02

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Q What about Priscilla Owen and the confirmation hearings? First, I want to ask you what you make of the arguments against her. And, second, could you clarify a remark apparently made by Judge Gonzales himself in reference to one of her decisions in which he referred to her way of thinking as an unconscionable act of judicial activism?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President views today's hearing of Priscilla Owen as a very important hearing. There is a judicial emergency, a judicial vacancy crisis throughout this country, and that's because the Senate has failed to act on many of the President's nominees. Priscilla Owen is one of 32 circuit court nominees that the President has made, while the Senate has confirmed only 11, leaving 21 with no action taken. The President is very concerned about that.

In the case that you are citing, Judge Gonzales is the first to say that he supports Priscilla Owen's appointment to the circuit courts. So if people would want to cite what Judge Gonzales believes, then they should be consistent and vote to support her, just as Judge Gonzales did. Simply because they disagreed on a case does not mean she's unfit to serve.

This is the final question you get.

Q Well, you know, these are all matters that you obviously want to address, so let's not -- (laughter).

MR. FLEISCHER: In that case, I'll argue with myself.

Q The question of judicial activism, which would seem to go against the President's own standard in selecting judges, is not a question for the White House in this particular matter?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, given the fact that Judge Gonzales says himself that because they had a disagreement over one case does not mean she's unfit to serve. He's looking at her record in its totality, just as the President does. And if you want to get down to the complications of that issue or into the weeds of the issue, it is much more complicated than the critics suggest on there. The actual opinion with which Justice Gonzales had written that about was penned by somebody else, concurred into by Justice Owen.

Q Ari, NARAL today in its press release on Priscilla Owen says they want to prevent her from joining a court "already tilting far outside the mainstream." One of the things they've taken exception to is her rulings on Texas's parental notification law. We've heard the White House defend Justice Owen on the grounds of judicial restraint, but will, as this moves along, the White House take a stand on parental notification itself, considering the fact that she was in the majority on most of these cases and that this was a law that was overwhelmingly favored by the Texas legislature and by the American people?

MR. FLEISCHER: The job of a justice is to enforce the laws regardless of personal views. And groups like the one you cited obviously have a litmus test. And this is something where hopefully the Senate will not have its own litmus test, where one party imposes a litmus test on the other party. Justices and judges at all levels, their job is to interpret the laws -- is to enforce the laws and make rulings that do not legislate from the bench.

Q Could it make it harder, though? I mean, we're in a case where -- you're always, obviously, talking about the process working, there being civility in the process, when now we have a situation where -- Republicans generally, when a bill -- or when a judge comes to the floor, have generally -- you know, look, for example, Justice Ginsberg only had three Republicans vote against her. And in this administration, we've seen Senate Democrats vote in large majorities -- or in large minorities -- against administration appointees and judges.

MR. FLEISCHER: At a time when there are so many judicial vacancies and judicial emergencies resulting from these vacancies, it would indeed be unfortunate if litmus tests were imposed by the party that receives the President's nominees, in this case the Democratic Party. This is a time for bipartisanship on the bench.

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