Favorite

The devil's due 

By this publication, the United States Senate will have confirmed President Bush’s nomination of Priscilla R. Owen to the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, part of the Faustian bargain to avoid a shutdown of what was once but is no longer known as the world’s most deliberative body. Owen was probably the worst of a half-dozen Bush nominees to appellate courts so shocking in their extremism or lack of ethical dimensions that even conservative Democrats abhorred the idea of their serving lifetime appointments. But Democrats agreed to let Republicans confirm her and three or four other corporate shills that will follow in exchange for preserving the filibuster, which Democrats will use only in “extreme” cases. We are expected to acknowledge the worth of the trade-off: a few cruel or corrupt judges with life tenures in exchange for preserving the Senate as a working body, at least for a few weeks. But the country should at least know what the trade-off entails. How much harm, after all, they asked, can Priscilla Owen do on a panel of a dozen judges in a system that requires at least some consensus? But that’s what they asked in Texas in 1994, too, when money from big corporations and corporate law firms seated her on the Texas Supreme Court. An oil and gas lawyer, Owen had been recruited by Karl Rove, who directed her campaign. This battle over judicial appointments is over our heads so to most of us it all looks like just politics. But it really is not that complicated. Justice in the end usually is just a human face. In Priscilla Owen’s case, it is the face of Willie Searcy, who ought to be the poster child for the Bush judiciary but whose name has hardly surfaced in the long battle. Lou Dubose documented his story in Salon. Willie, a skinny black kid, was 14 in 1993 when a Mercury Cougar hydroplaned on a Dallas freeway and crashed into a Ford pickup driven by Willie’s stepfather. Willie’s seatbelt didn’t work and a spinal-cord injury left him a quadriplegic dependent on a ventilator. Soon, medical bills of $530,000 piled up and the parents, both low-paid clerks, faced staggering bills for the rest of Willie’s and their lives. He needed full-time care and his trachea tube had to be suctioned regularly for him to breathe. They sued Ford for the malfunctioning seatbelt. Their luck didn’t change. The next year, with the help of fat checks from Enron and other big corporations and corporate firms, Priscilla Owen went on the Supreme Court. A jury gave Willie and his mom a nice judgment that would have allowed them to meet the expense, but Ford appealed to the Supreme Court and drew Owen as the supervising justice. In workers compensation and personal-injury cases, the company strategy is to delay so that the injured person and the plaintiff’s lawyer run out of resources and settle for a pittance or nothing. Owen had not disappointed those who invested so much confidence and money in her. A third of her campaign funds came from corporations and firms that had cases before her. A whopping 86 percent of the time she ruled for the company or firm that bankrolled her campaign when they were before the court. While Willie’s case worked its way through court, Owen got $20,450 from Baker Botts, the giant firm run by Bush family friend James A. Baker III. Baker Botts was part of Ford’s defense team against Willie. They got their money’s worth. The lawyers asked for an expedited appeal because of the family predicament. But Owen sat on the case for two years. It should have been over soon after the oral argument in November 1996. At that stage, decisions come down in weeks. Owen submitted her opinion almost a year and a half later, in March 1998. Four judges strongly dissented but her opinion said the case had started in the wrong court, which was not even an issue on appeal. The family had to start again. But the full court did a remarkable thing. It apologized to the family for the “unconscionable delay” in deciding the case. By the end of June 2001 Willie’s case had worked its way up again and the Dallas Court of Appeals upheld a judgment against Ford again. If Justice Owen could be bypassed, Willie, now 21 and a high school graduate, might yet get some relief. But Medicaid had run out, nursing help could no longer be paid and four nights after the decision Willie’s ventilator stalled. His mother found him choked to death. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Owen how she justified slow-playing Willie’s case when his life hung in the balance. “He didn’t pass away while his case was before my court,” Justice Owen replied. Rove has gotten evangelical groups to proclaim Owen a warrior for Christ. After all, she had once gone out of her way to stretch Texas law to prevent a young girl from getting an abortion, another opinion that stumped her conservative colleagues. Where on the Sermon on the Mount is there a doctrine that would justify treating Willie Searcy that way? No Latin phrase can dignify the legal cruelty that Priscilla R. Owen visited on that boy and his mother. That is what the tradeoff in the Senate was about.
Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Reality TV: Watching burglary live in LR

    A home surveillance system helped a Pinnacle Valley home owner get photos, but not immediately catch, burglars who stole two firearms Wednesday morning.
    • Jan 20, 2017
  • The Trump open line.

    Here's your open line. I hear there's a new president.
    • Jan 20, 2017
  • The dark roots of 'America First'

    Donald Trump employed the phrase "America First" in his inaugural speech and it's now featured prominently in a list of initiatives on the new Trump White House website. (Gone from the website are Obama-era references to "climate change."
    • Jan 20, 2017
  • More »

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Glass houses

    Having gotten a deep security briefing and probably a confidential glimpse of our own vast cyberspying operation, Donald Trump is no longer pretty sure that the Kremlin didn't hack Democratic computers or employ other tactics to help his election.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • ACA and the GOP

    Congress and the new president in a matter of weeks will repeal big parts of the Affordable Care Act, at least nominally, but what will follow that wondrous event will not be the contentment that Republicans have long promised, but even more political tumult.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Religion as excuse upends Constitution

    Tirades over religious liberty since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages nationwide have awakened the ghost of James Madison, the author of the constitutional doctrine on the matter, and it isn't happy that his effort to protect religious inquiry in America is being corrupted.
    • Jul 9, 2015
  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Glass houses

    Having gotten a deep security briefing and probably a confidential glimpse of our own vast cyberspying operation, Donald Trump is no longer pretty sure that the Kremlin didn't hack Democratic computers or employ other tactics to help his election.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • ACA and the GOP

    Congress and the new president in a matter of weeks will repeal big parts of the Affordable Care Act, at least nominally, but what will follow that wondrous event will not be the contentment that Republicans have long promised, but even more political tumult.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Good one, Al. Hell hath no fury, and all that happy horse-shit. I hope Gene…

    • on January 20, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Make that "old hack."

    • on January 20, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Oh dear - It is me, E.E.W - I'll confess - but not so much…

    • on January 20, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation