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4th Circuit Nominee Boyle in Hot Water Over Anti-Disability Ruling

Did we need more evidence that North Carolina U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle is no friend to folks with disabilities?

Boyle was nominated by Bush back in 2001 to fill the vacant seat on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (covering NC, SC, VA, WV and MD), but the nomination stalled after a Senate hearing last spring, when Democrats threatened to filibuster a floor vote. Now Sen. Bill Frist (R.-TN) is pressing for a May vote.

A story out yesterday on Salon.com now reports on findings from the Center for Investigative Reporting that Boyle ruled against a General Electric employee's claim to long-term disability benefits when Boyle, in fact, had just bought stock in GE.


Starting in 2002, Terrence W. Boyle, a longtime federal district court judge in North Carolina, presided over a lawsuit against General Electric, in which the corporation stood accused of illegally denying disability benefits to a long-standing employee. Deep into the case, on Jan. 15, 2004, Judge Boyle bought stock in General Electric, according to a review of his financial filings. Two months later, he made his ruling: Boyle shot down the plaintiff's claims to long-term and pension disability benefits, granting him only a fraction of the money in short-term compensation for a debilitating mental condition. . . .

You have to watch a brief ad before you can read the story, but it's free... read it here:
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/05/01/boyle/index.html .

The findings in the Salon.com story aren't new -- the Center for Investigative Reporting's work was done awhile back -- the reason it's news now is because Salon.com just published a story on it. And that timing was likely influenced by the Frist push -- the Feminist Majority Foundation's Feminist News Wire posting yesterday a.m. noting the Salon article clearly looks like a coordinated effort by Boyle anti's (some of them at Salon.com) to stir a pot that needs some stirring just now.

The Raleigh News & Observer (in NC, where Boyle now occupies the federal bench) has two stories in reaction, with conflicting headlines: first, Claims put Boyle's new bench seat at risk, and then Report doesn't dim backing for Boyle.

Go figure.

The current news flap notwithstanding, Boyle's action should be no surprise to disability activists. The judge has a longtime anti-disability record. According to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law,

Boyle has consistently ruled against individuals with disabilities in cases brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504. Many of his decisions are based on radical interpretations of disability rights laws, which are often completely inconsistent with basic disability law as interpreted by other courts and federal enforcement agencies and as expressed in the statutes and regulations. . . .

Read the full Bazelon Center report on Boyle .


Raleigh News and Observer
Published: Apr 29, 2006 12:30 AM
Modified: Apr 29, 2006 03:30 AM

Judicial nominee is hostile to disability act

I strongly oppose your April 25 editorial "Boyle's time." You characterized federal District Judge Terrence Boyle as a "not entirely predictable...judicial conservative" who is "qualified by training and experience for this important job" [Boyle is nominated for a seat on the U.S. 4th District Court of Appeals]. You claimed that objections to his record are "both petty and overly partisan."
We do not object to Boyle being a judicial conservative. Rather, we object to Boyle because of his demonstrated lack of respect for precedent and because, contrary to your assertion, he is completely predictable in his vocal hostility to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In Williams v. Avnet, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals chastised Boyle for his misguided approach to reasonable accommodations provisions of the ADA. He ignored Congress' clear directive that "reasonable accommodation" requires an interactive process between employer and employee, and insisted that courts should defer to the employer's business expertise. The 4th Circuit dismissed Boyle's ruling as not supported by the letter of the law or by precedent. Talk about legislating from the bench!

Showing a stunning disrespect for decisions by higher courts, Boyle refused to admit that the Supreme Court decision in the courthouse-access case of Tennessee v. Lane had overruled his broad rulings that Congress lacked power to pass parts of the ADA. The 4th Circuit and the Supreme Court have issued additional rulings proving that Boyle was wrong. Unbelievably, he still refuses to respect the guidance of higher courts.

We call upon The N&O to reconsider its support of Boyle in light of his overwhelming record of hostility to the ADA -- historically a piece of bipartisan legislation. From established fact, a person with a disability in the 4th Circuit can reasonably and without prejudice expect not to receive "fair and impartial justice" with Boyle on the bench.

Rene E. Cummins

Executive Director

Alliance of Disability Advocates

Center for Independent Living


(The length limit on letters was waived to permit a fuller response.)

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