(WOMENSENEWS)–As the Senate Judiciary Committee debated what role ideology should play in the selection of federal judges, pro-choice groups this week singled out conservative judge Carolyn Kuhl of California as one nominee who should be rejected because of her past positions seeking to limit reproductive rights.
Kuhl, 48, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, was nominated by President Bush on June 22 to fill one of three vacancies on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the nation’s largest federal jurisdiction covering California and seven other Western states. The majority of judges currently sitting on the 9th Circuit are Democratic appointees.
The day the White House announced her nomination, the Justice for Peace Alliance, a coalition of California social welfare and advocacy groups, issued a statement expressing “very grave concerns” about Kuhl joining the federal bench. The coalition includes Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, the Committee for Judicial Independence and the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project.
The Washington-based Center for Reproductive Law and Policy also opposes Kuhl. The group sent letters to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who will review Kuhl’s background, saying her record on reproductive rights “compels us to urge you to vote against confirming her for life tenure on the federal judicial bench.”
The groups cite three cases from Kuhl’s career, two of them dating back to the 1980s when she was a lawyer in the Reagan administration. In 1986, when Kuhl was deputy assistant attorney general, she co-authored a brief filed with the U.S Supreme Court that urged a reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing a woman’s right to an abortion.
Woman Nominee Said Roe v. Wade Should Be Abandoned
According to the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, her brief stated, in part, “textual, doctrinal and historical basis for Roe v. Wade is so far flawed and … is a source of such instability in law that this Court should reconsider that decision and on reconsideration abandon it.”
In the second case, also as deputy assistant attorney general, Kuhl argued before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington in support of a rule requiring federally funded family planning providers to notify parents within 10 days of prescribing contraceptives to minors.
According to news reports of the 1983 hearing, Kuhl told the court that confidentiality was not breached by parental notification. “It’s entirely legitimate for a parent to be involved in an adolescent’s contraceptive decisions,” she was quoted as saying. The appeals court subsequently voided the regulation.
The third case stems from Kuhl’s work in private practice in Los Angeles. In 1990, she wrote a brief on behalf of the American Academy of Medical Ethics in which she argued that prohibiting doctors who receive federal funds from discussing abortion did not violate First Amendment guarantees of free speech.
“The history of Judge Kuhl’s involvement in anti-choice litigation gives us critical pause,” reads the letter from the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. “We continue to urge you to support only those judicial nominees who affirm their commitment to the rights articulated in Roe v. Wade.”
Subcommittee Debates Whether Nominees’ Ideology Should Be at Issue
The reaction to Kuhl’s nomination came as a Senate Judiciary subcommittee opened a hearing this week on whether senators should consider the ideology of judicial nominees when deciding whether to confirm the nominations. Separately, the Senate Judiciary Committee is reviewing the background of all of Bush’s nominees, but has not yet held a public hearing on any of them. After such a hearing, the committee votes on whether to send the nominee to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.
New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, said he believed nominees should be openly questioned about their positions on abortion and other controversial social issues. “Let’s make our confirmation process more honest, more clear and hopefully more legitimate,” he said during testimony on Tuesday.
Republican senators disagreed. They said they had not used the so-called “litmus test” on nominations made by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. They accused Senate Democrats of looking for ways to reject Bush’s nominees.
Adam Shah, a lawyer who is tracking the judicial selection process for the Alliance for Justice, said that President Bush has so far nominated 19 people to federal appeals courts and seven to federal district courts. He said six of those nominees are women. Kuhl was one of two nominations announced last week. Bush also nominated Honolulu attorney Richard Clifton to fill one of the other vacancies on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kuhl has been a Los Angeles Superior Court judge since 1995. Before joining the bench, she was a partner in the Los Angeles firm of Munger, Tolles and Olson. She served as a deputy attorney general from 1981 to 1986. She also was a law clerk for Anthony Kennedy before he became a U.S. Supreme Court justice. At the time, Kennedy was a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. According to Kuhl’s entry in “Who’s Who,” she is a member of the conservative Federalist Society.
Vera Haller is a free-lance journalist in New York.
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Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California:
Center for Reproductive Law and Policy: