Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Maria Araujo Kahn has served the last sixteen years as a state judge, building a long judicial record that may be parsed for her appellate nomination.
Born to a Portuguese family in Angola in 1964, Maria Araujo Kahn immigrated to the United States at age 10. Kahn graduated from New York University in 1986 and the Fordham University Law School in 1989. After graduating, Kahn clerked for Judge Peter Dorsey on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.
In 1993, Kahn joined the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Disabilities. She subsequently became an Assistant U.S. Attorney based in New Haven. In 2006, Republican Governor Jodi Rell appointed Kahn, a Democrat, to the New Haven County Superior Court.
In 2013, Kahn was recommended to President Obama for the federal district court in Connecticut, but another nominee, Jeffrey Mayer, was nominated and confirmed instead.
In 2017, Kahn was elevated to the Connecticut Appellate Court by Governor Dannel Malloy. Malloy subsequently appointed Kahn to the Connecticut Supreme Court, replacing Justice Carmen Espinosa. Kahn has served on the court since.
History of the Seat
Kahn has been nominated to replace Judge Jose Cabranes, who has announced his desire to take senior status upon the confirmation of a successor.
After her clerkship, between 1993 and 1997, Kahn worked for the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Disabilities, where she litigated in support of plaintiffs seeking medical and legal rights in health care litigation. For example, Kahn filed an amicus brief in support of a plaintiff seeking to stop the forcible administration of medication for his mental illness in non-emergency situations. See Doe v. Hunter, 667 A.2d 90 (Conn. Super. 1995).
Kahn subsequently became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut. In this role, Kahn worked alongside future federal judge Stephen Robinson and future federal judicial nominee Barbara Jongbloed to prosecute Dr. Oscar Perez Gomez for Medicare fraud. United States v. Gomez, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16068 (D. Conn. Aug. 29, 2003). She also prosecuted cases of mail and wire fraud. See, e.g., United States v. Clarke, 390 F. Supp. 2d 131 (D. Conn. 2005).
Kahn has served on all levels of the Connecticut judiciary: trial, appellate, and supreme. She has been appointed to these positions by Governors of both political parties.
Kahn joined the New Haven County Superior Court after her appointment by Rell in 2006. In that role, Kahn served as a trial judge hearing both civil and criminal cases. Early in her time on the bench, Kahn declined to overturn a Council decision to approve a Spring cell tower to be built in Litchfield. See Rosa v. Sitting State Council, 2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 590 (2007).
On the criminal side, Kahn declined to suppress evidence arising from a traffic stop, finding that the officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop and that he did not unreasonably prolong the traffic stop. State v. Cronin, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2899 (2008). She also declined to dismiss a DUI charge where the police officer had videotaped the defendant while he was consulting with his attorney on whether to take a breathalyzer. State v. Abbate, 2011 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2494 (2011).
Court of Appeals
In 2017, Gov. Malloy elevated Kahn to the Connecticut Appellate Court. Kahn’s tenure on the Appellate Court was fairly short before her elevation.
A few months after she was appointed to the Connecticut Appellate Court, Kahn was elevated to the Connecticut Supreme Court by Malloy. Kahn has served on the seven-member court since.
Among her key opinions on the Connecticut Supreme Court, Kahn wrote for the majority declining to fashion a Miranda-like prophylactic rule that would require the police to warn juveniles that their crimes may have adult consequences before questioning them. See Pat Eaton-Robb, Court Won’t Create Special Miranda Warning for Juveniles, A.P. State & Local, June 28, 2018.
In another ruling, Kahn wrote for a unanimous court in overturning Sen. Ernest Newton’s convictions for campaign fraud, ruling that the trial court had improperly instructed the jury on the level of intent needed for conviction. See Court Overturns Former Senator’s Campaign Fraud Convictions, A.P. State & Local, Oct. 12, 2018. In contrast, Kahn upheld a murder conviction resting solely on “cross-racial” eyewitness testimony, finding that defense attorneys had failed to meet their burden to show that no reasonable factfinder would have convicted. See Pat Eaton-Robb, Court Upholds Conviction Based on ID by Single Eyewitness, A.P. State & Local, Oct. 11, 2019.
In one notable case, Kahn concurred in the Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling upholding a conviction for breach of the peace, finding that using the n-word in referring to an african american public servant constituted “fighting words” which were unprotected by the First Amendment. See State v. Liebenguth, 250 A.3d 1 (Conn. 2020). In her concurring opinion, Kahn described the fighting words doctrine, which allows the state to prohibit words likely to incite violence, as “dubious,” noting that it “leads to consideration of stereotypical propensities for violence when assessing an addressee’s likely response to the speaker’s words.” Id. (Kahn, J., concurring).
Writings and Statements
In 2019, Kahn joined fellow Supreme Court Justice Richard Robinson on a panel at Eastern Connecticut State University discussing implicit biases in the legal system. Connecticut Supreme Court Justices Discuss Implicit Biases, Targeted News Service, Apr. 9, 2019. In her remarks at the event, Kahn discusses “hidden biases” that people often don’t recognize. Kahn states:
“Example: When people see a Black person and say ‘I don’t see color,’ Oh yes you do! You take information about Black people already in your head, which rejects notions of you opening your mind more to being a more transparent human being.” See id. (quoting Hon. Maria Araujo Kahn).
Over her sixteen years on the Connecticut state bench, Kahn has built a relatively mainstream record, with few rulings that have drawn criticism or controversy. That, combined with her comparative lack of youth, should make Kahn a less controversial nominee. However, Kahn may, nonetheless, draw opposition based on her remarks on implicit bias. Additionally, Kahn also faces a limited senate calendar, making the prospects of an end-of-year confirmation more difficult than otherwise anticipated.