April 16th, 2010
01:02 PM ET
5 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. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    He sounds like a great candidate.hat is the big whoop about the 'living Constitution' thing? Common sense dictates that a 'few' things have changed since the writing of the Constitution. I think that modern times dictate that cases be viewed individually within the constructs of the law.

    But as we all know, ultimately, the bottom line is that Obama could nominate Jesus himself to the Court, and the GOP would shoot him down.

    Tell us something WE DON'T KNOW CNN.

    April 16, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  2. jeff jackson, alabama

    Ya think there may be 117 things about him
    he didn't want to disclose ??????

    April 16, 2010 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  3. ray

    the republicans wants an all white america so i am sorry for you mr liu.

    April 16, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  4. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Why don't the Republicans just pick Sarah or Todd Palin because that's the extent of what they look for in qualifications.

    April 16, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  5. terry,va.

    Not only is he trying to hide his radical ideas, he is lying to explain his positions on current supreme court judges. He says that he can separate his book writing and speech positions from how he would rule as a judge. How stupid does he believe we are? He won't get past the senate so it really doesn't matter; except this is another indication of OBUMMIE'S inter-circle and his beliefs.

    April 16, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  6. BigB

    The good senator, Kyl needs to pull his head out of the 1940s...on accusing Mr. Liu's "ability to approach and characterize people's positions in a fair and judicious way." I wonder if that means that he agrees with what Judge Alito stated in the previous paragraph?

    April 16, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  7. The Unsub

    I see ya Obama.....good move!

    April 16, 2010 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  8. Yoon-suk

    It's simple: The Repubs don't like him because he's not one of them–a good ol' white boy. They just hide it, or try to, in rhetoric and emotion.

    April 16, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  9. Johnny DC

    Perhaps Liu is the best man for the job.

    Or, incredibly more likely, Obama has intentionally chosen the best Asian for the job in the hopes of scoring more political points with another favored minority.

    The time has come for Obama to recognize the responsibility of his office and choose the best Americans for the crucial jobs for which he has the power of appointment, and to stop picking the best Mexican or the best Asian. His chessmaster gamesmanship is disgusting.

    April 16, 2010 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  10. No Way

    The Senators should have to be grilled before a committee, before they are sworn in.

    April 16, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  11. fhwilson246

    he's anti-american.
    this guy hates the country.

    April 16, 2010 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  12. Mary Rabus

    Do not confirm him. He is a judicial activist

    April 16, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  13. Beth

    Is this any surprise. Are we supposed to have tons of conservative judges but no liberal ones? I don't think so.

    April 16, 2010 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  14. dan smith

    Keep an open mind? Really? You mean the same way the Dims did with Bork or any other Republican nominee? Seems to me the Republicans have been more than fair to Dimwit nominees while Dims have been vicious to republican nominees, to the point of making up lies and using character assassination. What fantasy world do you live in leahy?

    April 16, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  15. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    The last thing this country needs is a judge from The People's Republic of Berkeley.

    April 16, 2010 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  16. frank in valparaiso indiana

    After Clarence Thomas, Alioto, the GOP has no leg to stand on as far as idiots being submitted. They should just shut up and pass the nominee.

    April 16, 2010 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    Does the man meet the criteria as a jurist? Yes? Confirm. No? then don't .
    Stop the politics with judges. As a metter of fact- stop the politics -period!

    April 16, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  18. Ken in NC

    I would suspect that if the President would ask of Republicans who they want him to pick for a Federal Judgeship, that person might get some Republican support. I suspect that if President Obama does not do what Republicans want him to do then they are going to oppose every move he makes because it is not what they.

    I suspect that Republicans are stupid if they think the POTUS is suppose to do their bidding. Maybe they should consider working with this administration because that is a big part of their job. We elected Republicans and Democrats to make decisions for us. When Republicans are in the majority Democrats must work with them to get things done. I don't think it asking to much of Republicans to do the same when they are not in control. Well maybe it is.

    April 16, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  19. Marc

    "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."

    Translation: You are a judicial nominee coming from a center-left president, therefore you (and any other name he comes up with) are clearly unqualified for the job!

    And besides... John Kyl is careful to NEVER aprove pick an activist judge... (this line is me being sarcastic in the case that someone thinks that I am writing it with a straight face)

    April 16, 2010 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  20. Marc

    Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy said "I hope they will not apply a double-standard to this extraordinary nominee".
    Apart from the 'extraordinary' portion of his phrase (like a Republican never qualified any GWB's picks with such a word), for I cannot agree with since I don't know (yet) Goodwin Liu's legal opinions about many things, I can say that they (Republicans on the committee and in the Senate as a whole) will apply a double-standard to him and any other nominee of President Obama.

    April 16, 2010 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  21. Andrew F

    I'm a currently a student in Professor Liu's Constitutional Law class. I'm not going to comment on his politics, but he's been fair and even-handed in class. In contrast to some of my other professors, he never takes advantage of the podium to engage in demagogy or any sort of language that reveals his opinions.

    Sometimes this makes him boring - but he's certainly fair.

    April 16, 2010 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  22. Steve

    Because a Senator would know what it takes to be a judge....what a bunch of clowns.

    April 16, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    I expected liberal from Nobama, but this guy takes the cake. Ever read any of his stuff? Crazy!!

    April 16, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  24. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Sounds like another nominee from the Obama racial-spoils system. Unqualified professionally, but qualified racially.

    April 16, 2010 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  25. HyporcriCNNWO....4 Life, 4 Life!

    This Issue Is Why It Could Be Dangerous If The Republicans (Obstructionist Crybabies) Win The House Or Senate This Fall. There Just Itching To Open Up A Can Of Chaos!

    April 16, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
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