Kearse, Amalya Lyle 1937—

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Amalya Lyle Kearse 1937

Lawyer, federal judge

At a Glance

Appointed to Appeals Bench

Considered for Supreme Court

Selected writings


Appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, by President Carter in 1979, Amalya Lyle Kearse is distinguished as the first woman and only the second black to sit on that court. Kearse has been considered for a possible Supreme Court appointment by the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations, and she was also considered as a possible nominee to the post of U.S. Attomey General in 1992. Although she remains on the U.S. Appeals Court bench, she has won the approval of both liberal and conservative law professors. She was the first choice for a seat on the high court by 50 top lawyers in a 1993 poll conducted by the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper. In addition to her legal career, Kearse is a world class bridge player and has been a five-time national bridge champion. She has written, translated, and edited several books on bridge.

Called enigmatic and fiercely private by a Wall Street Journal reporter in 1993, Amalya Kearse has kept most details of her family and childhood to herself. She was born on June 11, 1937 in Vauxhall, New Jersey. Her father, Robert Freeman Kearse, was Vauxhalls postmaster. He was supportive of his daughters career choice. My father always wanted to be a lawyer, Kearse told the New York Times in 1979. The Depression had a lot to do with why he didnt. I got a lot of encouragement. Profiled in Ebony in 1966 as an up-and-coming corporate law attomey, Kearse revealed that her legal aspirations began in childhood. I became an attomey, she stated, because I once wanted [as a child] to be an FBI agent. Kearses mother, Myra Lyle (Smith) Kearse, was a medical doctor in Vauxhallalthough later she served as the anti-poverty director of Union Countyand hoped her daughter would pursue a career in medicine. But I couldnt, Kearse explained in the New York Times. I was too squeamish. Besides, I liked going through old law books.

Kearse attended elite Wellesley College, where she took a course in international law, reinforcing her desire to be a lawyer and sparking her interest in litigation. I decided I wanted to be a litigator, she recalled in the New York Times. There was a moot court and I found that very enjoyable. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in philosophy in 1959. Against the advice of counselors at Wellesley, Kearse went on to enroll in law school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. One of only eight women in her class, she graduated cum laude in 1962. While at Michigan she was editor of the law review and won the Jason L. Honigman Award for her outstanding contributions. According to a New York Times correspondent, even before she received her degree, she received job offers from several Wall Street firms. Kearse ultimately chose to join the corporate law firm of Hughes, Hubbard, and Reed in 1962 as an

At a Glance

Born June 11, 1937, in Vauxhall, NJ; daughter of Robert Freeman (a postmaster) and Myra Lyle (a doctor; maiden name, Smith) Kearse. Education: Wellesley College, B.A, 1959; University of Michigan Law School, JiX, 1962

Lawyer, federal judge, author. Hughes, Hubbard, and Reed, New York, NY, associate, 196269, partner, 196979; U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, judge, 1979. Adjunct lecturer, New York University Law School, 196869; member of editorial board, Charles Goren (bridge expert), 1974 Member, American Law Institute, 1977; fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers, 1979.

Selected awards: Order of the Coif; Jason L.. Honigman Award for Outstanding Contribution to Law Review Editorial Board, University of Michigan; Bridge Personality of the Year from International Bridge Press Association, 1980; Outstanding Achievement Award from University of Michigan, 1982; Golden Plate Award from American Academy of Achievement, 1984; womens pairs bridge champion, national division, 1971, 1972, world division, 1986; national womens teams bridge champion, 1987, 1990, 1991.

Member: American Bar Association, New York Bar Association, National Association of Women Judges.

Addresses: Office U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. Courthouse, Foley Square, New York, NY 100071501.

associate trial lawyer. In addition to her work with the firm, she was also an adjunct lecturer in evidence at New York University Law School for two years. She also served on the board of Big Sisters, which assisted Family Court. In 1969 she was invited to become a partner at Hughes Hubbard.

Kearse was one of three women profiled by the New York Times in a 1970 article applauding their status as the only female partners in Wall Street firms. Kearse herself was the first female black partner in a Wall Street firm. Orville Schell, a senior partner at Hughes Hubbard, offered high praise for his pioneering colleague in 1979. She became a partner here not because she is a woman, not because she is black, but because she is just so damned goodno question about it, he told the New York Times. Kearse was certified to appear before the benches of New Yorks Federal District Courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals (Second and Fourth Circuits), and the U.S. Supreme Court. A Wall Street Journal reporter noted in 1993 that while at Hughes Hubbard, Kearse built her reputation on antitrust and other business litigation. In one of her biggest victories, she represented Broadcast Music, Inc., the music licensing organization, before the U.S. Supreme Court in the late 1970s. In the decision, the court backed away from the use of strict statistical standards, such as similarity of prices, in determining whether a business has a monopoly.

Appointed to Appeals Bench

In June 1979, Democratic President Jimmy Carter named Kearse, a Republican at the time, to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which serves New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. A New York Times correspondent observed at the time that she was the first woman ever to sit on the Federal appeals court in Manhattan and only the second black in the courts history. Thurgood Marshall was the first, appointed in 1961. And at the age of 42, Kearse was also one of the youngest judges in the history of that court, which the New York Times further noted, is considered by many lawyers to be the most important court in the country, after the United States Supreme Court.

As a federal judge, Kearse has impressed liberals and conservatives alike, partly because of her command of the law, and partly because her decisions do not allow her to be predictably categorized. In a Washington Post profile in 1994, a reporter observed that Kearse has a reputation for a sharp intellect, even on complicated business issues that confound some other judges. Her votes on social issues please the liberal-leaning groups. On the other hand, conservatives were pleased in 1984 when Kearse rendered an opinion that restricted circumstances under which private plaintiffs can seek triple damages in lawsuits brought under the RICO act. A decision in 1990 approved a stricter statute of limitations for bringing securities-fraud suits. The standard was adopted by the Supreme Court in another case, wrote Jonathan Moses in the Wall Street Journal in 1993.

Kearses positions on social issues are illustrated by her dissenting opinion in the 1989 case Rust v. Sullivan, which upheld President Bushs gag order prohibiting federally funded clinics from dispensing abortion information. The Los Angeles Times quoted her opinion, which stated in part: The present regulations deny a woman her constitutionally protected right to choose. She cannot make an informed choice between two options when she cannot obtain information as to one of them. In a 1984 majority opinion Kearse wrote that prosecutors should not be allowed to exclude minorities from juries with peremptory challenges.

Considered for Supreme Court

Kearse has been considered several times for possible appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the early 1980s she was one of eight candidates put forward by the National Womens Political Caucus for consideration by President Reagan for possible replacement of Justice Potter Stewart. In 1991 the Bush administration appraised Kearse, along with Clarence Thomas and others, for high court appointment. Her name appeared on a 1992 list of possible nominees being considered by the Clinton administration for the position of U.S. Attomey General, but she was passed over in favor of Janet Reno. Kearses record was reviewed in 1993 as President Clinton looked for a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Byron White, and again in 1994 when Justice Harry Blackmun announced his retirement. Insiders speculated that, although considered a moderate with centrist views, Kearse was likely viewed as too liberal in her leanings by the Republicans, and considered too conservative by the Clinton administration.

A Wall Street Journal reporter wrote in 1993 that by all accounts Judge Kearse is brilliant, noting further that she is described by colleagues as demanding and precise. In another article, a Wall Street Journal staff member observed: Judge Kearses towering intellect is recognized by her colleagues, who call her our resident genius. She is much admired as well by fellow judges, who hold her exacting constructions of legal precedent in high regard.

Kearse is also highly respected in the world of tournament bridge. She is a top national and world class player who won the Womens Pairs Bridge Championships National Division twice, its World Division once, and was the National Womens Teams Bridge Champion in 1987, 1990, and 1991. Shewas named Bridge Personality of the Year by the International Bridge Press Association in 1980. Kearse has authored Bridge Conventions Complete (1975) and Bridge at Your Fingertips (1980) and has translated two other books on bridge from French to English. She is also a member of the editorial board of Charles Goren, the recognized bridge authority.

Selected writings


Translator and editor, with Alan Truscott) Championship Bridge, 1974.

Bridge Conventions Complete, 1975, 3rd edition, 1990.

(Editor) Official Encyclopedia of Bridge, 1976.

(Translator and editor) Bridge Analysis, 1979.

Bridge at Your Fingertips, 1980.


Federal Minimum Wage Standards, October 1973.

Employers and Social Security, November 1973.



African-American Almanac, 6th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

African American Encyclopedia, Volume 4, Marshall Cavendish (New York), 1993.


Ebony, September 1966, p. 6.

Essence, May 1995, p. 146.

Jet, March 27, 1980, p. 9; July 9, 1981, p. 7.

Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1991, p. A18.

New York Times, June 22, 1970; June 25, 1979;

September 10, 1981; December 9, 1992; May 5, 1994.

Scholastic Update, November 30, 1984, p. 2.

Wall Street Journal, May 19, 1993, p. A15; June 14, 1993, p. B5.

Washington Post, April 13, 1994, p. A10.

Ellen Dennis French

Kearse, Amalya Lyle

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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]).

"The very fact that a person is in his own home raises a reasonable inference that he intends to have privacy, and if that inference is borne out by his actions, society is prepared to respect his privacy."
Amalya Lyle Kearse

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.

further readings

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).