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Bush court nominee draws fire from left

Federal courts shift to the right


Once again, a Bush Administration appointee is raising red flags in Washington among some civil liberties groups, who are expressing growing concern about the hard-rightward shift by the White House in federal judgeship nominations.

The latest name to appear on the civil liberties radar screen is California state Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl, who was nominated last month to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a jurisdiction that includes Montana. At least one civil liberties group has called her nomination “troubling,” due to her checkered record on civil liberties, reproductive rights and medical privacy.

People for the American Way, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization that monitors constitutional liberties issues, is calling Kuhl’s nomination just the latest in an ongoing trend by the Bush Administration to “[pack] the federal courts with right-wing ideologues,” says PFAW President Ralph Neas.

Among Neas’ concerns: In 1982 Kuhl worked as a special assistant to the attorney general under President Reagan to successfully reinstate the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, an institution notorious for promoting racial segregation and other discriminatory practices. This despite the opposition of some 200 Civil Rights Division lawyers, the general counsel of the Treasury Department and the head of the Internal Revenue Service. The Supreme Court later rejected the Justice Department’s reversal of the tax exempt status in an 8-to-1 vote.

On the issue of reproductive rights, Kuhl co-authored a “friend-of-the-court” brief for the Justice Department in Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in which she argued that Roe v. Wade should be overturned and states allowed to ban all abortions. Kuhl also came out in favor of requiring federally funded family planning groups to notify parents within 10 days of prescribing contraceptives to minors. And in Rust v. Sullivan, she argued that prohibiting doctors from discussing abortion at federally funded clinics does not violate the First Amendment.

As a California Superior Court judge, Kuhl ruled against a woman who had brought an invasion of privacy suit against her doctor for allowing a drug company salesman to observe her breast examination. Her ruling was later overturned by the appellate court.

“When President Bush named his first 11 nominees to the federal bench, it was clear that Caroline Kuhl’s name was withheld from that first batch because of possible concerns from the home state senators,” says PFAW’s Jason Young. Young says that while PFAW has not yet heard back from California’s senators, Barbara Boxer or Diane Feinstein, he does expect organized opposition to Kuhl’s nomination, especially with the recent change in Senate leadership.


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