A divided U.S. Senate committee gave preliminary approval Thursday to President Bush's nomination of Priscilla R. Owen, a conservative Texas Supreme Court justice, to the federal appellate bench.
But Owen may face a Democratic procedural roadblock in the full Senate, like the one preventing confirmation of fellow judicial nominee Miguel Estrada.
On a party-line vote of 10-9, the Judiciary Committee sent to the Senate Bush's nomination of Owen to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The vote was identical to the one Estrada got in January when the Republican-led panel reported out Bush's nomination of the Latino attorney to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Since then, Republicans have repeatedly fallen five votes short of the needed 60 in the 100-member Senate to end a Democratic procedural roadblock, known as a filibuster, and clear the way for a confirmation vote on Estrada.
Republicans contend that Estrada and Owen are highly qualified and deserve to be confirmed. But critics charge that they are part of Bush's attempt to pack the courts with right-wing ideologues.
Democrats complain that Owen has a pro-business, anti-consumer record, and that Estrada evaded several questions at his confirmation hearing.
Because Owen received no Democratic votes in the committee Thursday, she becomes a candidate for a filibuster, Democratic aides said. However, they said no decision has been made on whether such a roadblock would be raised against her.
"Nothing has been determined yet," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee. But "that is something people are thinking about."
Panel Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), said: "I don't think Democrats will filibuster her because it would show them to be exactly what they are: obstructionists. But I can't say for sure what they will do."
There was no word on when the Senate would vote on Owen. However, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the Senate should do so soon, noting that Bush first nominated her nearly two years ago.