As the debate over the “nuclear option” — so-called because it’s explosive and meant to be used as a last resort — radiates in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is the man to watch as he and his colleagues debate whether to change the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow a simple majority to confirm the president’s judicial nominees.

Cornyn, 53, is the only member of the Senate who has actually been an appellate judge. And he sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which considers the president’s judicial nominees. From that seat, Cornyn has been one of the most vocal advocates for Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, President George W. Bush’s controversial nominee to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Bush first nominated Owen in 2001 and has renominated her several times since then, the latest being this year. Her detractors say her rulings are out of the mainstream when compared to other conservative members of the Texas Supreme Court. She has issued opinions consistently favoring businesses and opposing abortion, they say. Supporters say Owen, a Republican, is extremely qualified — a bright legal mind who, since 1994, has served with distinction on Texas’ highest civil court, ruling strictly on the law and refraining from making policy decisions. Her supporters also say she has been unfairly painted as an extremist by liberal interest groups.

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