April 16th, 2010
01:02 PM ET
4 years ago

Obama judicial nominee faces tough Senate scrutiny

Goodwin Liu, a federal judicial nominee, faced intense scrutiny from Senate Republicans over his liberal views and his preparation for his confirmation hearings.
Goodwin Liu, a federal judicial nominee, faced intense scrutiny from Senate Republicans over his liberal views and his preparation for his confirmation hearings.

Washington (CNN) - Senate Republicans offered a cool reception Friday to a federal judicial nominee who has become a political lightning rod over his liberal views and his preparation for confirmation hearings.

Lawmakers on both sides traded barbs over Goodwin Liu's qualifications and his past statements on a variety of hot-button topics during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

If confirmed, Liu, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, would be the only Asian-American currently on the appeals courts, the level just below the Supreme Court. President Obama nominated him for a seat on the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in February.

During his testimony, the 39-year-old Liu calmly addressed the concerns of GOP senators.

"The question is if this the right job for you," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who cited Liu's lack of judicial experience and his late submission of professional documents - including past speeches and writings - required by the committee.

The nominee omitted 117 items from a committee questionnaire on his background. The items were eventually submitted and Liu acknowledged GOP frustration, and said, "I'm very sorry for the omission of information in my initial submission."

Republicans and other conservatives have questioned whether Liu was purposely withholding certain information on his background. Republicans said the material included statements on affirmative action and the effect that Obama's 2008 presidential win would have on the Supreme Court.

Democrats strongly defended Liu's record, saying opponents were unfairly characterizing his words and qualifications.

"I hope they will keep the same open mind kept by Democratic senators," said committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy. "I hope they will not apply a double-standard to this extraordinary nominee," he added.

Liu assured the panel that despite some provocative statements he made as a law professor, he would act impartially as a judge.

"My personal beliefs have no role in the act of judging," he said. As an example, he noted, "I would have no difficulty or objection of any sort to enforcing the law as written in enforcing the death penalty."

Many court watchers view the Liu nomination as a political test-case of sorts for the pending Supreme Court nomination Obama will soon make to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, who will soon retire. Many liberals hope the president chooses a strong liberal high court nominee, and see Liu as a potential candidate for the Supreme Court someday.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee, noted as much, saying Liu's confirmation "takes on even greater significance in light of the impending Supreme Court vacancy."

Liu's supporters point to his years of scholarship, and especially his personal background. He was born to Taiwanese immigrant parents, attended public schools, then Yale Law School and was a Rhodes scholar. He later clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Republicans have made much of Liu's statements in support for same-sex marriage and affirmative action. A recent book he co-authored supported the idea of the "living" Constitution, which conservatives have long disdained. Liu said judges should interpret the Constitution "in light of the concerns, conditions and evolving norms of society," which many on the right deem a playbook for activist liberal judges.

"The question," Liu wrote, "is not how the Constitution would have been applied at the founding, but rather how it should be applied today... in light of changing needs, conditions and understandings of our society."

Liu also openly opposed President Bush's 2005 nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, told Liu his nationally televised remarks during Alito's Senate hearing were out of line.

At that time, Liu said "Judge Alito's record envisions an America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse; where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man... this is not the America we know. Nor is it the America we aspire to be."

"This calls into question your judicial temperament," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, on Friday. "I see it as very vicious, and emotionally and racially charged, very intemperate and to me it calls into question your ability to approach and characterize people's positions in a fair and judicious way."

The 9th Circuit on which Liu would sit is by far the largest appeals court in the U.S. and includes the states of California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Montana and the Pacific territories. It is also considered the most liberal federal appeals bench with 25 judges named by Democratic presidents, 22 by Republicans.

Most of the cases accepted by the Supreme Court come from the 9th Circuit, a sign that the conservative majority on the high court has concerns with the appeals court's rulings.

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. JES

    Another person who Obama wants that can't even fill out a form. Does he pay his taxes.

    April 16, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  2. Seanathair

    It has been written that America's destruction is written in the Constitution. Mr Liui's inter[retation of the Constitution, as written in his own words, lends credence to this statement.

    April 16, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  3. John Rosati

    Where were the GOP Senators when Bush appointed only right wing conservatives? I guess only Dems can appoint judges that the GOP approves of even though they never object to judges like Roberts who refused to answer anything at his confirmation hearings. Maybe the GOP should read the book on Brandeis to understand what a good federal judge is really like!

    April 16, 2010 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  4. shucks

    Goodwin Liu only speaks the truth, fairness and equal rights. Something that the republican party has forgotten except for themselves.

    April 16, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  5. shucks

    I can't wait for Obama's 3rd choice for the Supreme Court during his second term. America will then be equal for all and not just the "chosen".

    April 16, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  6. Willy Brown

    Another liberal for the 9th Circus Court. So what else is new?

    April 16, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  7. tpbco

    Just another obama nominee who is only sorry that he got caught. If he didn't submit to the judicial committe, did he submit them to the original dem vetting committee? If so, then there is collusion and fraud. If no, then it's incompetance. Which is it?

    Or is it simply like the tax cheat given the Sec Tres position.

    You're right, it's Bush and GOP's fault...again. I can't imagine why they keep saying no....

    How's this hope and change working for you?

    April 16, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  8. Confirmed

    I am an attorney, and support Mr. Lui's confirmation. It's absurd to believe that the constitution need not be suitably interpreted to keep pace with current society. I always consider that the "founding fathers", in their infinite wisdom, did not see fit to count me as any more than 3/5th of a person, if that. I'm quite grateful that our governing instrument, the constitution, can be applied with modern thinking in modern times. Congratulations on your nomination, Mr. Lui.

    April 16, 2010 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  9. Marie MD

    "This calls into question your judicial temperament," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, on Friday. "I see it as very vicious, and emotionally and racially charged, very intemperate and to me it calls into question your ability to approach and characterize people's positions in a fair and judicious way."
    What a hypocrite – calling Liu out on racially charged and vicious whatever. If I didn't know better I would say that being Asian-American has nothing to do with the hatred from the party of NO!!
    Black President, Latina Supreme Court Judge and now an Asian-American? What is this country coming to. My goodness.

    April 16, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  10. Sandra, Atlanta

    I am just sick of the Republicans. I'm tired of hearing about every little move they make as if somebody appointed them 'God'. CNN used to be an objective reporting source. Whether you like Ted Turner or not, when he owned the organization they reported the facts about the real news of the day.

    April 16, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  11. Me, In TX

    I feel sorry for Goodwin Liu. If his confirmation will be anything like Sonia Sotomayor's, he has my pity.

    I almost wish Stevens would not retire. This is just another chance for the GoP to frighten their followers with talk of socialism and the "evil liberal". I swear...we are just trying to clean up a mess they created and they are fighting it every step of the way. But we shall overcome

    April 16, 2010 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  12. LawDawg

    "Most of the cases accepted by the Supreme Court come from the 9th Circuit, a sign that the conservative majority on the high court has concerns with the appeals court's rulings."

    In fact, last term, only 20.3% of the cases decided were from the Ninth Circuit, and the term before it was 14.1%.

    The Court reversed 75.9% of all cases, and 81.3% of Ninth Circuit cases. It reversed 100% of the cases it took from the 4th ,6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, DC, and Federal circuits.

    Your allegations about a "sign" from the majority court doesn't pass scrutiny.

    April 16, 2010 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  13. Donna from Colorado Springs

    Is anyone surprised that the Republicans are against one of the Presidents nominees? They insist that a conservative main stream person be the only one considered for the post. Why should the president blindly give into the Republican conservatives one more time? They throw tantrums and threaten stoppage of everything moving forward if they don't get their way! Why should the country give into their endless whining demands? I, for one am sick and tired of them thinking that they run the country!

    April 16, 2010 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  14. Jim

    I don't understand why all judges should be conservative. Shouldn't about half the judges be conservative and half of them liberal?

    April 16, 2010 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  15. If We Can Defeat Him On Health Care It Will Be His Waterloo

    I see the Republicks are pushing to alienate the Asian vote.

    April 16, 2010 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  16. Steph

    Hey, if we let folks like Alito and Roberts run around and act like judicial activists for international corporations, we get a couple liberal judges on lower courts.

    April 16, 2010 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  17. carlos

    what would you expect from those talibanian repulsives, they hate the middle class, ethnicity and cannot stand those with higher IQ, of course,not a difficult task.................

    April 16, 2010 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
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