On July 29, 2022, President Joe Biden nominated Justice Maria Araujo Kahn to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to the seat vacated by Judge Jose Cabranes. Justice Kahn and her family immigrated to the United States when she was a child to escape civil war in Angola. After more than fifteen years on the bench, she brings both her experiences as an immigrant and a long career of advocacy and judicial expertise following her confirmation to the Second Circuit on March 9, 2023.
Early Life and Education
Justice Maria Araujo Kahn was born in Benguela, Angola to Portuguese parents in 1964. Justice Kahn and her parents, both factory workers, immigrated to the United States in 1975 to escape civil war. At the time, she was only ten years old. Justice Kahn is fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese and has maintained close ties to the Portuguese American community throughout her life and career.
In 1986, Justice Kahn earned her B.A., cum laude, from New York University. In 1989, she graduated with her J.D. from Fordham Law School where she was the first recipient of the Noreen E. McNamara Scholarship. After several years as a public defender and working in disability advocacy, Justice Kahn served in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut as a criminal prosecutor
After law school, Justice Kahn clerked for Hon. Peter C. Dorsey in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. She then served as a public defender for the State of Connecticut. As a public defender, Justice Kahn represented juveniles in delinquency matters. In 1993, she moved to the State of Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities where she managed civil rights litigation on behalf of individuals with disabilities.
While at the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, Justice Kahn’s advocacy ranged from cases related to employment, housing, and criminal matters. Notably, she initiated the investigation and filing of CAD et al v. Middlesex. Memorial Hospital et al. on behalf of the Connecticut Association of the Deaf against multiple Connecticut hospitals that failed to provide reasonable accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing patients. The case was ultimately resolved by the establishment of a statewide interpreter system and was recognized by the Department of Justice as a leading case under the ADA. Justice Kahn also represented a client with a learning disability who had been denied rehabilitation services through appeals in the superior, appellate, and state supreme court where her client was finally successful. This case paved the way for future due process rights within the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services.
From 1997 to 2006, Justice Kahn served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Connecticut. In that role, she prosecuted health care fraud, white collar matters, theft of intellectual property, identity theft, computer crimes, tax fraud, and bank fraud. Additionally, Justice Khan has served as a professor of law at both University of Connecticut School of Law and Quinnipiac University School of Law.
In 2006, Justice Khan was appointed to the Connecticut Superior Court by Governor M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, and she was reappointed to that same court again in 2014. Over the course of her work as a trial judge between 2006 and 2017, she presided over thousands of criminal and juvenile cases, including 50 criminal trials between 2012 and 2017. In May 2017, Governor Dannel P. Malloy appointed Justice Kahn to the Connecticut Appellate Court. Later that same year, he elevated Justice Kahn to the Connecticut Supreme Court. She took the bench in November 2017 and has served as an Associate Justice for the past five years. Justice Khan has authored 62 opinions on the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Some of the most influential decisions Justice Kahn has authored clarify constitutional provisions, including freedom of speech, such as State v. Tavernas. In this opinion, Justice Kahn clarified the true threats exception to the First Amendment’s right to free speech. The defendant in that case used threatening language in an exchange with an employee of his child’s daycare. At the time, he was on probation for an assault conviction and his probation was revoked as a result of his comments. Justice Kahn and the Connecticut Supreme Court held that due to the defendant’s history with the school, his demeanor during the incident, and the reactions of the listeners, the defendant knew his statements would be understood as a threat of violence and therefore fell under the true threats exception to the First Amendment’s protections.
Similarly, Justice Kahn joined the majority in Haughwout v. Tordenti. In that case, the Connecticut Supreme Court held a student who had been expelled from a public university for making comments and gestures implicating that he had plans to conduct a school shooting was not protected under the First Amendment because his words and actions fell under the true threats exception. The student at the center of that case argued his statements were hyperbolic and humorous comments on a matter of public concern, but the court firmly found that the totality of his words and actions created reasonable fear that he would engage in violence.
Justice Kahn’s commitment to equal justice is apparent in many of the civil cases she has presided over, including a high profile state supreme court case tied to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms Int’l. LLC, plaintiffs, composed of the administrators of the estates of nine victims of the massacre, brought a wrongful death suit against the manufacturers and distributors of the weapon used to carry out the attack. Justice Kahn joined with the majority in reversing a lower court’s ruling that would have prevented the case from moving forward. She, and the Court, found that the plaintiffs’ claims relating to the promotion of violent or criminal behavior in the gun manufacturer’s advertising were viable and could proceed. The plaintiffs moved forward with their suit, allowing the grieving families to pursue justice and push for greater gun safety. Just this year, the family members of victims announced a $73 million dollar settlement with the gun manufacturer.
In a decision celebrated by the Hartford Jewish community, Justice Kahn protected the ability of Jewish students to practice their religion in Chabad Chevra, LLC v. City of Hartford, Docket No. CV-10-6003847, 2011 WL 7029763 (Dec. 5, 2011). In this zoning appeal, she held in favor of a Jewish community center that argued the Hartford Zoning Board acted arbitrarily, illegally, and had abused its discretion when a Hartford Zoning Enforcement Officer issued a cease and desist to the community center. The building at the heart of the case was previously owned by a Baptist Church that had used it to house administrative offices and religious services. After the church sold the building to Chabad Chevra, a Jewish student community center, the organization began using the premises as a student center and to provide religious services. Justice Kahn, then a superior court judge, found that the ongoing activities conducted by Chabad Chevra were consistent with the prior activities of the Baptist church and that the only distinction between the prior and current use of the building was the owners’ religion.
Justice Kahn also demonstrated her commitment to equal justice and civil rights when she joined the majority in the landmark Connecticut Supreme Court decision in Comm’n on Human Rights & Opportunities v. Edge Fitness, LLC. The court found that Edge Fitness violated Connecticut’s nondiscrimination statute by maintaining a separate workout area for women. The case was highlighted by LGBTQ+ and other civil rights organizations that argued the creation of an exception for “gender privacy” could be used to harm, rather than help, women and transgender people in the future and that any such exceptions should be created by the legislature, not the courts. In the opinion joined by Justice Kahn, the Connecticut Supreme Court echoed these concerns and rejected the concept of a “gender privacy” exception to Connecticut nondiscrimination laws.
Justice Kahn has also provided guidance to lower courts in criminal matters, both in terms of substantive and procedural law. Justice Kahn’s deft hand and fair-minded approach to such important issues are clear indicators of her aptitude for the bench.
In State v. Tyus, Justice Kahn joined the Court in cautioning trial judges against joinder of codefendants in criminal cases due to issues arising from cross-admissibility of evidence. Additionally, in an opinion authored by Justice Kahn, State v. Owen, the Connecticut Supreme Court clarified the discretion that may be exercised by prosecutors when entering nolle in Connecticut trial courts. There, a state prosecutor cited a victim’s depression, which rendered her unable to testify due to her fear and anxiety related to the case, as a disability warranting a nolle. The defendant, claiming that the prosecutor caused undue delay and acted in bad faith, requested the charges be dropped. In the Court’s decision, Justice Kahn sided with the state, but emphasized that a balance must be struck between the state’s discretion over such matters and a defendant’s right to a speedy trial.
In another decision authored by Justice Kahn, State v. Patel, the Connecticut Supreme Court clarified defendant’s protections under the Sixth Amendment. There, the defendant challenged the Appellate Court’s finding that a co-defendant’s statement to a police informant was not testimonial, and therefore not subject to the defendant’s right to confrontation under the sixth amendment to the United States constitution. The Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed that the admission of the statement did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights, finding that the circumstances under which the co-defendant spoke with the informant in no way notified the co-defendant that such statements could be perceived as “bearing witness” against the defendant.
Justice Kahn has also upheld the state constitutional rights of criminal defendants. In State v. Correa, Justice Kahn enforced the rights of a defendant who was subject to an unreasonable canine search by police. After observing an apparent drug deal near the defendant’s motel room, police in this case used a canine to examine the motel hallway and the bottom of the defendant’s motel room door before applying for a search warrant. Justice Kahn joined in the majority opinion that this search was subject to a warrant requirement under the state constitution and, after a detailed analysis of independent source doctrine, remanded the case to trial court. Similarly, in State v. Brown, Justice Kahn, joined by the rest of the Court, found that police violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights when they obtained his cell phone location date without a warrant. Justice Kahn emphasized that reasonable suspicion was not enough to obtain such records and that the appropriate remedy for such measures is the suppression of said records.
State Criminal Law
In substantive matters of criminal law, such as State v. Daniel, Justice Kahn utilizes her extensive legal and judicial experience to clarify the criminal code. In Daniel, the Connecticut Supreme Court was asked to clarify the substantial step provision of the state’s attempt law. Ultimately, the Court concluded that lower courts should focus on what a defendant has already done rather than on what they must do to complete the crime.
Professional Activities and Accolades
In addition to her duties presiding over cases, Judge Kahn presently serves as Co-Chair of the Judicial Branch’s Access to Justice Commission as well as the Limited English Proficiency Committee. She is also a former member of the Judges’ Education Committee and taught courses at the Connecticut Judges’ Institute.
In 2017, the Portuguese Bar Association presented Justice Kahn with the Americo Ventura Lifetime Achievement Award. She is an active member of the Portuguese American Leadership Council of the United States, which awarded her with its Leadership Award in Public Service in 2015. She was also the Connecticut Immigration and Refugee Coalition’s 16th Annual Immigrant Day Honoree in 2013 and the Day of Portugal Honoree at the Connecticut State Capitol in 2014. In addition, Justice Kahn received the Department of Justice Special Achievement Awards from 1998 to 2006, among other professional awards over the course of her career.