Carolyn Kuhl: Blocking the Path to Justice

Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Nominee Has Long History of Hostility Toward Women's Rights, Civil Rights and Access to Justice

The record of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by President Bush, demonstrates that her confirmation would pose a grave threat to the rights and interests of ordinary Americans. Kuhl’s record throughout her career as a lawyer and a judge reflects hostility to women’s rights and reproductive freedom, other civil rights and access to justice.

“Carolyn Kuhl exemplifies the dangers of allowing President Bush to pack the courts with judges who would have a devastating effect on the rights of ordinary Americans,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. “As a Reagan administration official, a private attorney and a judge, Carolyn Kuhl has followed a legal philosophy harmful to the rights of individuals seeking justice. Her nomination should be rejected.”

PFAW today released a report providing detailed analysis of Kuhl’s record as an attorney and a judge for the last 22 years. The report examines Kuhl’s record in her current position as a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, as well as during her time as a Reagan administration Justice Department official and a private attorney representing defense contractors and other corporate interests. “From the bench, from the bar and at the Department of Justice, Kuhl has been an obstacle for individuals seeking justice,” said Neas.

Highlights from the report:

  • At the Reagan Justice Department, Kuhl helped orchestrate the Reagan administration’s reversal of a long-standing IRS policy that denied tax exempt status to private schools that practice race discrimination, including Bob Jones University. Her position was soundly repudiated by the Supreme Court in an 8-1 ruling.
  • Kuhl urged the filing of and then co-authored a brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case calling for “outright reversal” of Roe v. Wade. The Court rejected Kuhl’s attack on the landmark ruling.
  • Kuhl co-authored an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court advocating a position that would have made it harder for women to prove sexual harassment in the workplace. The Court unanimously rejected Kuhl’s position.
  • In a move that would have undermined the ability of citizens to vindicate their legal rights, Kuhl on behalf of the Department of Justice urged the Supreme Court to reverse well-settled law allowing associations to file lawsuits on behalf of their members. Kuhl’s attack on this critical doctrine was met with opposition from groups as ideologically diverse as the AMA, the NAACP, the Chamber of Commerce, the Chemical Manufacturers Association and the Sierra Club. The Supreme Court rejected Kuhl’s argument without dissent.
  • Kuhl also testified as a DOJ official against legislation that would have given veterans the right to go to court when denied benefits. In her testimony, Kuhl stated that the federal courts, which often represent a citizens’ last best chance for justice, “are not the enchanted land where all wrongs will be made right.”
  • As a private attorney, Kuhl filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court supporting efforts by the Virginia Military Institute, an all-male public institution, to continue to exclude women. The Court later ruled that VMI’s denial of admission to women violated the Equal Protection Clause. Kuhl also filed a brief supporting the “gag rule” prohibiting family clinics that receive federal funds from discussing abortion with patients.
  • As a judge, Kuhl dismissed a breast cancer patient’s claim that her privacy had been violated when her physician permitted a male drug company salesperson to watch as he had the woman disrobe from the waist up and examined her breasts and abdomen. Kuhl ruled that “it cannot be said that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy” in this case. The California Court of Appeal unanimously overturned Kuhl’s ruling, making it clear that Kuhl had no legal basis for not allowing the women to present her case to a jury.
  • Judge Kuhl was also unanimously reversed by the California Court of Appeal in a case involving a state law protecting whistleblowers and others who exercise their legal right to speak out in defense of the public good. In an opinion strongly critical of Kuhl’s decision, the Court of Appeal sternly stated that Kuhl’s ruling “constitutes a nullification of an important part” of the state statute. In another case, Kuhl reduced by more than $4 million the punitive damages awarded by a jury to a whistleblower who had been illegally fired.
  • In another unanimous ruling by the California Court of Appeal reversing Judge Kuhl, the court overturned an order that would have harmed the ability of an injured railroad worker to pursue a damage claim against the railroad by prohibiting him from using a written statement obtained from a key witness in the case.

    “Kuhl is a textbook example of the Bush administration campaign to pack the federal courts of appeal with right-wing judges whose legal philosophies are out of the mainstream,” said Neas. “Kuhl’s long record demonstrates she has already tried to turn back the clock on civil rights, women’s rights and access to justice. Giving her a lifetime position on the federal appellate bench would place her in an even more powerful position to jeopardize Americans’ rights for decades to come. Kuhl’s confirmation should be rejected.”

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