We've cut the right wire, it seems, and have avoided destruction. Again, for now.
But can this really be called a victory? Let's have a look at Priscilla Owen for a second. From Salon, May 12:
Willie Searcy never got to meet Priscilla Owen. And that's unfortunate. Because as an associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court, Owen once exercised almost complete control over the fate of the working-class kid who always played above his weight on the local rec-league football team -- until the car accident that changed his life and crossed his path with Owen's. The account of Willie Searcy's experience with the Texas high court provides real insight into what sort of federal appeals court judge Owen will be if the Senate approves her lifetime nomination to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. But Searcy's story has been largely overlooked.
Next week, Majority Leader Bill Frist may call up Owen's nomination for Senate consideration, a move expected to spark the long-awaited showdown over the so-called nuclear option. Owen's Democratic opponents, who have blocked her nomination since 2001, have been focused on her creative attempts to restrict abortion rights for minors in Texas. That also goes for the extreme Christian right, which considers Owen's "pro-life" record a justification for its campaign to persuade the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate to eliminate the filibuster rule and confirm Owen. Yet the case that pitted the skinny black kid from Dallas against Ford Motor Co. is as important as Owen's attempt to rewrite the law the Texas Legislature enacted to define a specific process by which minors could get abortions. (Not, as Owen held, to make such abortions almost impossible to obtain.)
Willie Searcy's trip to the Texas Supreme Court began in the rain on a Dallas freeway. He was 14 years old in April 1993 when a Mercury Cougar driven by a 17-year-old hydroplaned across the median and slammed into the Ford pickup driven by Willie's stepfather, Ken Miles. Miles' life was saved by the steering wheel, which absorbed some of the impact of the head-on collision. Willie's 12-year-old brother, Jermaine, was saved by a snug seatbelt that held him securely in the middle seat. Willie was not so fortunate. Just before the crash, he leaned forward to pick a piece of paper off the floor. The tension eliminator, which allows the seatbelt to spool out when a passenger leans forward, then retracts the slack and holds the belt in place when the passenger is sitting upright, apparently failed.
Willie Searcy had no broken bones. But the posterior ligaments that held his head in alignment with his spinal cord were torn and stretched. He would spend the rest of his life as a "ventilator-dependent quadriplegic." After being airlifted off the freeway, he spent three months in Methodist Hospital in Dallas and three more months in a private rehab facility. Within six months, Willie's mother Susan Miles and her husband Ken were looking at $550,000 in medical bills. The rest of their lives, in fact, would be defined by medical bills. Their teenage son would require full-time nursing care. He would have to be "coughed" by an attendant. His trachea tube would have to be regularly suctioned to allow a clear path for the ventilator to breathe for him. Every bodily function would be regulated or performed by a machine, relative, nurse, or attendant. It was far beyond what Ken, a parts clerk at a Ford dealership, or Susan, a medical records clerk, could expect from their healthcare coverage.
Willie's attorney, Jack Ayres, wanted to get the case to trial as fast as possible. He believed that a defective part with a history of failure had caused Willie's near-fatal impact with the dashboard, and he set out to sue Ford. Until the tort reform law that Gov. George W. Bush pushed through the Legislature in 1995, plaintiffs in Texas could file suit either where the cause of the lawsuit took place or in any county where the defendant did business. Ford would have preferred to defend itself in Dallas, where conservative judges and juries are friendlier to corporate defendants. Ayres filed in state district court in Henderson, a small East Texas town where there was a Ford dealership. The docket was shorter there, which ensured a faster trial date. The jury pool was probably more favorable to his client. And the state law allowed him a choice of forum.
"We were in a race to save this kid's life," Ayres said.
There's more, but you'll have to sit thru the British Airways ad on Salon to read it. Bottom line- I think even the appointment of people like Owen will fail to threaten Roe V. Wade (although the new notification laws, working in tandem with the whole "Culture of Life" semantics campaign will certainly limit abortion rights).
But that doesn't mean that they won't do damage- to our environment, to our litigation rights, to our basic civil liberties and to any remaining power the citizenry has against huge multinational corporations like Ford Motor Company. I don't like that Prissy will get confirmed. She sounds like another lousy Texas Justice type who consistently rules on the side of "white" and "money." But we're losing a couple of Supremes this term and like it or not, someone's got to take their place. I don't know if I'm ready to call the compromise a victory. But at least it's not a defeat.