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Even as opposition groups cranked up the heat on Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals nominee Carolyn Kuhl last week, an opening appeared that could move her nomination forward. On Friday, a coalition of left-leaning employment law, environmental, abortion rights and minority groups met to urge public opposition to Kuhl, saying she was among President Bush’s most conservative nominees. She was called anti-consumer, anti-labor, anti-abortion, anti-environment and more. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, prefaced the first meeting of this Congress’ Senate Judiciary Committee by announcing a change in the handling of “blue slips,” the traditional consent forms requested of a judicial nominee’s home state senators. The move could give Kuhl a hearing even if Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., declines to return her blue slip, a signal of opposition. Boxer has not yet done so. Kuhl was first nominated to the Ninth Circuit in 2001, and President Bush resubmitted her nomination in January. Kuhl declined to comment on the developments, but Bush administration support remains steadfast. “The administration agrees completely with the American Bar Association, which reviewed Judge Kuhl’s record and concluded that she was well qualified to become a federal judge. Judge Kuhl has demonstrated intelligence, fairness, impartiality and professionalism in her seven years on the bench in California,” Justice Department spokeswoman Monica Goodling said. The DOJ also provided several letters of support from Kuhl’s colleagues on the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench. At a press conference at the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, Kuhl was lumped in with President Bush’s other judicial nominees, with LCCR Executive Director Eva Paterson saying Bush was “rewarding the right wing.” Kuhl has been criticized for work she did while a Justice Department lawyer, including arguing for a return to nonprofit status for segregationist Bob Jones University and signing a brief that questioned Roe v. Wade. She was also criticized Friday as being against whistle-blower laws and for having represented Shell Oil in a dispute for which Shell was ordered to pay $5 million to clean contaminated land. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has already said she favors giving Kuhl a Judiciary Committee hearing, although she has not said whether she would support or oppose the nomination. The announced change to the blue-slip process would seem to open the door for a hearing, but opposition to the change is expected from some Democrats. They have also signaled a willingness to filibuster some of the president’s nominees. “I’ll give great weight to negative blue slips, but you can’t have one senator holding up, for instance, circuit nominees,” Hatch told The Associated Press. His comments relate directly to Kuhl’s situation. Any holdups over the blue-slip process would not sit well with the Judiciary Committee leadership. “This is another ploy by Democrats to obstruct the judicial nominations process,” said Hatch spokeswoman Margarita Tapia. “This is all a red herring by the Democrats.” The first fights are likely to be over other controversial nominees such as U.S. District Judges Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen, both of whom have been nominated to their respective circuit courts. Opposition to those two is much louder than has been against Kuhl, but Friday’s press conference was an effort to change that. Sierra Club lawyer Patrick Gallagher was one of the attendees. He said he was disappointed by the environmental record of Bush’s judicial picks. “I can’t tell you what this means for our environmental laws,” Gallagher said. “It means there will be no environmental laws.” Among the other comments: • “Judge Kuhl’s record on women’s health and Roe v. Wade are out of step with commonly held views and well-established legal principles,” said Carole Joffe of the Center for Reproductive Health Research and Policy. • “I think we’ve been way too polite, and it’s time to be not so polite,” said Tracy Salkowitz, executive director of the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. • “There are slews and slews of these very dangerous nominations, and there’s only so much energy that we have,” said LCCR Executive Director Eva Paterson. • “She may be groomed to replace [Chief Justice William] Rehnquist on the Supreme Court. That’s not a far-fetched idea,” said Paul Turner, senior program manager at the Greenlining Institute, referring to Kuhl.

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