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Boxer, Feinstein Jointly Oppose L.A. Judge's U.S. Court Nomination

Citing a Senate tradition of deferring to views of a nominee's home-state politicians, the senators urge 'no further action' on appointment.

June 07, 2003|Henry Weinstein | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — California's two Democratic U.S. senators have urged the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to halt any further action on the nomination of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl to the federal bench.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer cited the "long-standing Senate practice of deferring to the views of a nominee's 'home-state' Senators" in a letter sent to Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) this week.

Kuhl was nominated to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals -- which reviews cases from nine Western states, including California -- nearly two years ago.

Liberal advocacy groups have vigorously opposed her, but she has garnered the support of about 100 Los Angeles judges and a number of Los Angeles lawyers, including some liberals.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination a month ago on a 10-9 party-line vote.

Soon afterward, reports began to circulate that the Democrats might stage a filibuster on her nomination, but Senate Democrats have not disclosed their plans.

On Friday, Hatch's office did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the letter. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate could vote on Kuhl's nomination this month.

Boxer has opposed Kuhl from the start, citing positions Kuhl took while she worked as an attorney in the Reagan administration.

Kuhl called for the Justice Department to lead an attack on the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion.

Kuhl also helped persuade President Reagan's attorney general to change sides and support a restored tax exemption for Bob Jones University and other private schools that had practiced racial discrimination. At a hearing in April, Kuhl said she regretted taking the position she did on the Bob Jones University case.

When asked about her views on Roe vs. Wade, Kuhl responded, "I am not comfortable with giving my opinion with respect to any particular precedent."

Kuhl also has been criticized for her handling of the invasion-of-privacy case of a breast cancer patient whose doctor let a drug company salesman observe her examination.

Feinstein, a member of the Judiciary Committee, did not take a position until May 7, the day before the committee vote, when she issued a lengthy statement.

In particular, Feinstein cited a letter sent to her by former 9th Circuit Judge Shirley Hufstedler, who said she opposed Kuhl's nomination because of "grave doubts about her judicial temperament and about her ability during a lifetime appointment to decide cases with the requisite objectivity."

Kuhl was rated "well qualified" by the American Bar Assn. White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales has firmly defended her, saying last month that Kuhl's "record has been unfairly distorted and her character unfairly attacked by interest groups."

And this week, more than 50 attorneys at Kuhl's former Los Angeles law firm, Munger, Tolles & Olson, sent a letter to Boxer and Feinstein urging that she be confirmed.

Previous Battle Recalled

In their June 4 letter to Hatch, the two senators wrote, "As you well know, in accordance with Senate tradition, when both home-state Senators oppose a nominee there is no further action taken. You abided by this tradition during your entire previous tenure as Committee Chairman, as did the Chairmen before you."

They reminded Hatch of statements that he made in October 1999, when he voted against Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, who was nominated by President Clinton for a federal district court judgeship.

White was approved by the Judiciary Committee. But he was defeated on the Senate floor after Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), who had initially supported White, joined his fellow Missouri Republican Sen. John Ashcroft in opposing the nomination.

The letter quoted Hatch as saying, "had both home-state Senators been opposed to Judge White in Committee, Judge White would never have come to the floor under our rules. I have to say, that would be true whether they are Democrat Senators or Republican Senators. That has just been the way the Judiciary Committee has operated."

Boxer and Feinstein concluded their letter by writing, "We only ask that you give California the same courtesy that has always been afforded to every home-state Senate delegation."

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