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Amalya Lyle Kearse

Amalya Lyle Kearse is a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Kearse was born June 11, 1937, in Vauxhall, New Jersey. Her parents encouraged Kearse to develop her considerable intellectual skills. Her father, the postmaster in her hometown, wanted to become a lawyer, but the Depression prevented him from pursuing his dream. Her mother was a medical doctor who later became an administrator in an antipoverty program. Kearse attended Wellesley College, where she earned her bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1959. "I can trace [the decision to become a litigator] back to a course in INTERNATIONAL LAW at Wellesley," she said. "There was a MOOT COURT, and I found that very enjoyable." Kearse then enrolled at the University of Michigan Law School, and she graduated cum laude in 1962.

Kearse began her legal career with the Wall Street firm of Hughes, Hubbard, and Reed. After seven years of distinguished and diligent work, she was named a partner, becoming the first black female partner in a major Wall Street firm. Her colleagues have praised her for her incisive analytical skills. When asked about Kearse's qualifications, a senior partner at the Hughes, Hubbard firm said, "She became a partner here not because she is a woman, not because she is a black, but because she is just so damned good—no question about it."

Kearse's outstanding talents eventually came to the attention of President JIMMY CARTER, who named her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1979. She is the first black woman to serve on that court. During her tenure, she has decided many influential cases. In 1980, she wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Taborda, 635 F.2d 131 (2d Cir. 1980), a case that concluded that the use of a high-powered telescope to observe drug activity inside an apartment without a warrant constituted an unreasonable search and violated the FOURTH AMENDMENT. In other cases, she joined the majority in upholding a New York state ban on SCHOOL PRAYERS (Brandon v. Board of Education of Guilderland Central School District, 635 F.2d 971 [2d Cir. 1980]) and helped overturn a lower court's ruling that Vietnam veterans could sue the manufacturers of Agent Orange for alleged damage (In re "Agent Orange" Product Liability Litigation, 635 F.2d 987 [2d Cir. 1980]).


Kearse's name has been on the list of potential nominees to fill vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1991, she was considered for the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice THURGOOD MARSHALL. After President GEORGE H. W. BUSH's controversial nomination of CLARENCE THOMAS, who was eventually confirmed notwithstanding allegations that he had sexually harassed a former coworker, an opinion article in the New York Times urged Bush to

nominate Kearse in Thomas's place. The article noted that, because of her years of distinguished service on the court of appeals, Kearse is "among the four or five persons most qualified for the High Court." The article concluded that "what is needed is an appointment that can unify the country in the assurance that the next Supreme Court nominee is a person of unquestioned excellence. Judge Kearse is that person" (New York Times, October 10, 1991). Kearse was considered for the Supreme Court again in 1994 when President BILL CLINTON was evaluating possible replacements for retiring justice HARRY A. BLACKMUN. Earlier, in 1992, Clinton had considered her for the post of attorney general.

Kearse is a top-rated bridge player who has written several books about the game. She is a member of the American Law Institute and a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers. She has been an adjunct lecturer at New York University Law School, a member of the Executive Committee of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law, and a member of the President's Commission for Selection of Judges. She has also served on the boards of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE'S LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND and the NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE. Kearse has received many awards and honors, including the ORDER OF THE COIF and the Jason L. Honigman Award for outstanding contribution to a law review editorial board.

In 1999, Kearse wrote the majority opinion in a false claims case where a former Vermont Agency of Natural Resources attorney alleged that the agency had submitted false claims in regard to several grant programs. The court found that the ELEVENTH AMENDMENT did not bar the suit. The United States Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision in the case, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U.S. 765 (2000), holding that private individuals have standing to bring so-called "whistle-blower" suits in federal court, but that states cannot be included in the definition of "persons" who can be sued under the law. The Court did not explicitly decide whether the 11th Amendment protects states from being sued under the law.

In 2001, one of Kearse's former law clerks, Miguel Estrada, became the center of a political battle in the United States Senate when he was nominated by President GEORGE W. BUSH for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.


Brune, Tom, and Elaine S. Povich. 2002. "Fight Looms Over Judge Nominee." 2002. Newsday (April 15).

Richey, Warren. 1999. "Fraud Case Probes Limits of Whistle-Blowing." Christian Science Monitor (November 29).

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