updated 6/6/2005 1:50:19 PM ET 2005-06-06T17:50:19

Texas judge Priscilla Owen, the subject of a long and heated confirmation battle in the U.S. Senate, took the oath of office Monday for her new seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Owen, a justice on the Texas Supreme Court for more than a decade, won Senate confirmation to the federal post last month after a four-year fight over President Bush’s push to place conservatives on the nation’s highest courts. She became the first of Bush’s long-blocked nominees to win approval under an agreement reached by centrists in the Senate.

“This has been a long road,” Owen, 50, said after her swearing-in ceremony at the Texas Supreme Court chamber. She used one of Sam Houston’s Bibles to take the oath of office.

“This is bittersweet for me because I’m saying goodbye to some of the finest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” she said.

Owen was first nominated by Bush to the federal appeals court in May 2001. She continued to serve on Texas’ highest civil court while awaiting confirmation.

Democrats argued that Owen allowed her political beliefs to color her rulings. They were particularly critical of her decisions in abortion cases involving teenagers.

Politics?
But Republicans said those criticisms were politically motivated. They noted that she easily won election to the Texas Supreme Court in 1994 and re-election in 2000.

“The president stood firm against those who would distort her record,” said Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. He said it was hard to imagine the strength Owen mustered to withstand four years of criticism.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry also praised the way Owen conducted herself.

Hutchison, who worked to get the judge a confirmation vote in the Senate, said Owen displayed “judicial temperament” while never complaining about her treatment in the Senate.

“Priscilla Owen stood, and she stood with integrity,” Hutchison said. “She took it like a champion and deserves to be sitting on the federal bench today.”

Owen is filling a post vacated in 1997, when a judge took on senior status, which is a more limited role with the court.

“We have been waiting eight years for you,” Chief Judge Carolyn King of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said. “But you, Priscilla Owen, have been worth the wait.”

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is based in New Orleans. It hears appeals from federal districts courts in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.

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