Thursday, September 1, 2011
Goodwin Liu Confirmed to California Supreme Court
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin H. Liu was unanimously confirmed yesterday as the newest member of the state Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of this district’s Div. Three voted to confirm the 40-year-old nominee at the conclusion of an hour-long hearing.
The gathering, in the San Francisco courtroom will Liu will join his new colleagues hearing arguments as soon as next week, was televised live on cable and the Internet by the California Channel.
Nearly a dozen witnesses testified for Liu. The staff of the Commission on Judicial Appointments had reported Monday that while some three dozen letters were received in opposition to the appointment, none of the writers asked to speak at the hearing.
Cantil-Sakauye announced following the vote that Liu will be sworn in today by Gov. Jerry Brown at a private ceremony in Sacramento, where Liu grew up. One witness yesterday noted that Liu had an early exposure to government after the then-congressman from that city, Robert Matsui, sponsored him for appointment as a congressional page.
Matsui’s widow, Doris Matsui, succeeded him in the House of Representatives and wrote a letter to the commission in support of Liu’s candidacy.
In remarks to the commission, and to his supporters after the vote, Liu alluded to his long and unsuccessful battle for a seat on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
President Obama submitted Liu’s name to the Senate four times before the nominee asked for it to be withdrawn because his supporters could not break a filibuster by Republicans upset over Liu’s writings, particularly his opposition to Samuel Alito’s 2006 appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In contrast, he said yesterday, California offers “the most pleasant and enjoyable judicial confirmation process known to mankind.” The interval from nomination to confirmation was “a mere 36 days, but who’s counting,” he quipped.
‘Exceptionally Well Qualified’
The result of that process seemed little in doubt, given the muted nature of the opposition and the fact that the nominee received the highest possible rating, “exceptionally well qualified,” from the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation.
Those who did testify praised Liu for his warmth, collegiality, intellect, respect for precedent, fairness and openness to other points of view, his devotion to family and community, and his determination, as the son of immigrant parents, to avail himself of the opportunities available to him in this country.
The breadth of their comments was such that former State Bar President Holly Fujie said she was temporarily speechless because earlier witnesses had exhausted the language’s supply of superlatives.
But the self-described “Carlos Moreno groupie” did say that Liu would be “an extremely worthy successor to Justice Moreno,” who retired Feb. 28.
Liu, in his own brief remarks, said he was “overwhelmed” by the praise he had heard, joking that he was “not here to offer rebuttal.” He said that he had accepted Brown’s offer of appointment—the governor earlier said he contacted Liu right after he pulled the plug on his Ninth Circuit bid—because it was a “remarkable opportunity to serve the State of California.”
In response to a question by the chief justice, he elucidated his view of the differences between a legal academic and a jurist.
Academics, he explained, are expected to challenge existing ideas and norms. “Judges do not meet issues in the abstract,” he contrasted, but must rely on precedents and statutes, while an academic is free to expound the views of “a lonely scrivener in your own office, thinking your own thoughts.”
Klein asked him about comments by letter writers urging his rejection because he lacks experience as a trial judge.
He acknowledged that fact, but said that each level of the judicial hierarchy serves “a different set of roles.” As an appellate jurist, he told the commission, he will respect the “extremely difficult” work of the trial judge and show appropriate deference, an answer that Klein said would be well-received by members of the lower courts.
While yesterday’s action drew praise from liberals and Asian-American groups that strongly supported Liu, a contrary view was expressed by Randy Thomasson, president of the socially conservative SaveCalifornia.com.
“Goodwin Liu is a radical, liberal, political activist who will impose his own values on Californians by legislating from the bench, a clear violation of a judge’s oath of office and of the specific words of our constitution,” Thomasson said in a statement. “His political agenda dressed up in judicial robes is bad for families and bad for the rule of law in California.”
He predicted that Liu would “even exceed the activism of his liberal predecessor, Carlos Moreno, on the California Supreme Court.”
Moreno was the lone dissenter when the court upheld Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriages. The measure is now back before the court, which is set to hear argument Tuesday on the question, certified by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, of whether supporters of the measure have standing to defend its constitutionality in light of the refusal of Brown and Harris to do so.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company