President Bush will nominate today Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl, a veteran of the Reagan administration and a onetime clerk to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, to a seat on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, an administration official said Thursday.
If confirmed by the Senate, she would sit with the circuit's 28 appellate judges who, sitting in panels, review federal cases and set the law for a nine-state Western region that includes California.
Since March, the White House has been considering Kuhl and Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) to fill vacancies on the 9th Circuit.
But the pair ran into early opposition from California's two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, who were not consulted by the White House.
Cox later withdrew from consideration, but the White House decided to go ahead with Kuhl's nomination after getting tentative approval from Feinstein.
An administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Kuhl's name would be sent to the Senate today.
She moved to Los Angeles in 1978 and joined the law firm that is now Munger, Tolles & Olson. When Reagan was elected president and named William French Smith as U.S. attorney general, Kuhl moved to Washington to join the Justice Department.
There, she joined a group of young conservatives who were determined to shift legal policy on several fronts, including abortion, civil rights and affirmative action.
She left the administration during Reagan's second term to return to Los Angeles.
Since being named to Superior Court by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1995, Kuhl has won generally good marks from local lawyers for her fairness and quick grasp of the law.
But her nomination is likely to be an early test of whether Senate Democrats will block Bush nominees who draw the ire of liberal interest groups.
"We have a lot of concerns about her," said Marcia Kuntz, director of the judicial selection project for the Alliance for Justice. "She's been out of step on issues where there is a broad consensus in this country, such as civil rights."
Leaders of People for the American Way and the National Abortion Rights Action League also cited Kuhl as one of several pending judicial nominees they are likely to oppose.
Her opponents are focusing on the Bob Jones controversy, an early case that tarnished the Reagan administration.
Since 1970, the Internal Revenue Service has had a policy of denying tax exemptions to private schools and colleges that practiced racial discrimination.
Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., which had excluded black students for much of its history, challenged the IRS policy in federal court.
The Justice Department routinely defends federal agencies and their regulations. But the Reagan administration's Justice Department switched sides in 1981 and refused to defend the IRS policy in the Supreme Court.
Kuhl joined then-civil rights chief William Bradford Reynolds in supporting Bob Jones. They argued that only Congress, not the IRS, had the authority to establish such a tax policy.
The Supreme Court appointed a private lawyer to defend the IRS policy and upheld it on an 8-1 vote in 1983.
Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Feinstein, said she favored allowing Kuhl's nomination to go to the Judiciary Committee. "She wants a full review of [Kuhl's] record, and then she will make a determination" on whether to support it, he said.
A spokesman for Boxer deferred comment until the nomination is made today.
Bush also is expected to nominate Honolulu attorney Richard B. Clifton, formerly a lawyer for the Hawaii Republican Party, to another of the vacant seats on the 9th Circuit Court.