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Hatch to Seek Vote on Judge

The Senate Judiciary chairman rebuffs a move against an L.A. jurist's nomination.

June 21, 2003|Henry Weinstein | Times Staff Writer

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee intends to push for a Senate vote on the nomination of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl to the federal bench before the Fourth of July.

The chairman, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), in a letter this week rebuffed a request by California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to halt further action on Kuhl's appeals court nomination. Two weeks earlier, the two Democrats had urged him in a letter not to bring the nomination to the Senate floor, citing the "long-standing Senate practice of deferring to the views of a nominee's 'home state' senators."

On Friday, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said a vote on Kuhl's nomination could come up anytime before the Senate's holiday recess.

Boxer has opposed Kuhl's nomination from the start, citing positions Kuhl took while she worked as a lawyer in the Reagan administration. Prime among them was Kuhl's attempt to persuade the Justice Department to mount a campaign to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Feinstein, a member of the Judiciary Committee, indicated her opposition to Kuhl just before the panel voted.

But Hatch, in his letter dated Wednesday, told his California colleagues that although he respected their opinions on Kuhl, he could not support their efforts "to deny yet another outstanding judicial nominee a vote by the full Senate."

Hatch emphasized that Kuhl had been rated "well qualified" by the American Bar Assn., had graduated with honors from Princeton University and Duke Law School, clerked for a federal appeals court judge and has served eight years on the bench in Los Angeles. He said the committee had received many letters that "have a common theme: 'Judge Kuhl is fair, impartial, and follows the law.' "

Feinstein and Boxer had written Hatch, reminding him of statements he made in October 1999, when he voted against Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, who President Clinton nominated for a federal district judgeship.

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

The letter from Feinstein and Boxer 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."

Hatch's only response on the White nomination was to cite it as "precedent for affording a judicial nominee an up or down vote despite the opposition of [both] home state senators."

With the possibility of a filibuster against Kuhl, Hatch noted, "Despite their opposition to his nomination, neither Senator Ashcroft nor Senator Bond mounted an effort to filibuster the White nomination."

President Bush nominated Kuhl nearly two years ago to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews cases from nine Western states, including California. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination more than a month ago on a 10-9 party-line vote.

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