Why Judge Kuhl should not rule

Wendy Balazik is Media coordinator for the Sierra Club
Americans treasure our fundamental rights—the right to a clean and healthy environment, the right to privacy and civil rights. Every American deserves fair and balanced courts that protect these rights for us all. Yet the Bush administration is pushing lifetime appointments for judges who are out of step with most Americans and who threaten these fundamental rights.

The latest is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Because of Kuhl’s troubling record on a variety of issues, both Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) not to send her nomination to the Senate floor.

Kuhl has worked to close the courthouse door on the public by arguing before the Supreme Court for the abolishment of the doctrine that allows environmental, labor and other citizen organizations to represent their members’ interests. These organizations, such as the Sierra Club and AFL-CIO, work to hold businesses accountable for their actions when they break the law, be it polluting drinking water or trampling workers’ rights. When the United Auto Workers worked to ensure their members got unemployment benefits promised under the Trade Act of 1947, Kuhl asserted that the United Auto Workers had no right to represent its members in court. The Supreme Court rejected Kuhl’s argument without dissent.

As a judge, Kuhl dismissed a claim brought by a breast cancer patient whose privacy was invaded when her doctor permitted a drug company salesman, whose identity was not disclosed to her, to witness an examination of her breasts and abdomen. The California Court of Appeals unanimously found in favor of the plaintiff, making it clear that Kuhl had no legal basis for preventing the woman from presenting her case to the jury.

Kuhl was one of three Reagan administration Justice Department officials who persuaded the attorney general to reinstate Bob Jones University’s tax-exempt status, despite its racially discriminatory policies. The Supreme Court soundly rejected Kuhl’s position in an 8-1 ruling.

Kuhl’s record as an official in the Reagan Justice Department, in private practice, and as a state court judge reflects a lack of commitment to core constitutional values and to upholding equal rights for all Americans. Please urge California’s senators to lead the Senate opposition to Kuhl and to send a clear message that Californians care about individuals’ rights to a clean environment, medical privacy and civil rights.