Monday, June 23, 2003

Democrats strenuously oppose the nomination of California Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl, suggesting she may become the third Bush nominee filibustered in the Senate.

In a letter to the Judiciary Committee chairman, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, California Democrats, urged “that no further action be taken on the nominee.”

“Although she has been a local judge in Los Angeles for a number of years, her positions on reproductive rights, discrimination and other key issues of our day raised serious concerns among many,” the California senators wrote to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

Judge Kuhl, nominated by President Bush to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals two years ago, has been poised for a final vote by the full Senate since May 8, when she was reported out of the Judiciary Committee on a straight party-line vote.

“Unfortunately, it appears Judge Kuhl will likely join a growing list of well-qualified nominees being filibustered by a partisan minority of the Senate,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee.

Already being filibustered are Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada, nominated to the D.C. Circuit, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, nominated to the 5th Circuit. Mr. Estrada has been awaiting a final vote since Jan. 30, and Justice Owen has been awaiting final vote since March 27.

Many consider the brewing fight over lower judicial nominees as a dress rehearsal for an even bigger fight over the replacement of a Supreme Court justice if one retires at the end of this month.

All along, Democrats have insisted there is no single issue that guides their opposition to judicial nominees. But Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and presidential aspirant, said yesterday he would oppose any nominee who doesn’t support abortion rights.

“I am prepared to filibuster, if necessary, any Supreme Court nominee who would turn back the clock on a woman’s right to choose or the constitutional right to privacy, on civil rights and individual liberties and on the laws protecting workers and the environment,” Mr. Kerry said Friday, according to the Associated Press.

“The test is basic: Any person who thinks it’s his or her job to push an extreme political agenda rather than to interpret the law should not be a Supreme Court justice.”

Mrs. Feinstein and Mrs. Boxer limited their opposition to Judge Kuhl to the fact that she lacks support from her home-state senators, generally a condition required before a nominee proceeds in the Senate.

In particular, they pointed to a quote from Mr. Hatch in 1999 during the district court nomination proceedings of Judge Ronnie White of Missouri.

“Had both home-state senators been opposed to Judge White in committee, Judge White would never have come to the floor under our rules,” Mr. Hatch said. “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.”

In a reply, Mr. Hatch pointed to Judge White’s case because he did get a final vote on the Senate floor — the very thing the California senators oppose for Judge Kuhl, Mr. Estrada and Justice Owen.

Mr. Hatch also dredged up some old quotes from Mrs. Feinstein and Mrs. Boxer.

“I am pleased that we will be voting,” Mrs. Boxer said during a January 1998 floor debate on a nominee. “I think, whether the delays are on the Republican side or the Democratic side, let these names come up, let us have debate, let us vote.”

Similarly, Mrs. Feinstein said during a September 1999 floor debate: “A nominee is entitled to a vote. Vote them up; vote them down. … It is our job to confirm these judges. If we don’t like them, we can vote against them. That is the honest thing to do.”

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