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Friday, May 20, 2011


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GOP Filibuster Derails Goodwin Liu Nomination to Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


President Barack Obama lost his first vote on a judicial nominee yesterday as Senate Republicans derailed the nomination of a liberal professor who leveled acerbic attacks against two conservative Supreme Court nominees — both now justices.

Democrats fell short of the 60 votes they need to end a filibuster and give Goodwin Liu an up-or-down vote on his nomination to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Liu, a 40-year-old legal scholar at the UC Berkeley School of Law, was spoken of by some as a potential liberal “dream candidate” for the Supreme Court.

The vote was 52-43 to end debate, leaving Democrats eight votes short.

Obama nominated Liu for the third time in January. The Senate Judiciary Committee had approved his nomination each time, voting strictly along party lines.

Sen. Barbara Boxer issued a statement, calling the filibuster “an outrage.” She described Liu as “an exceptionally well-qualified and mainstream judicial nominee who is widely admired, even by leading conservative legal scholars.”

Her disappointment was echoed by Paul Hirose, president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, who said his group was “deeply troubled that an exceptional nominee who would also add much needed diversity to the federal bench is denied even a vote by the Senate.”

The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation took a contrary view, noting that 42 of California’s elected district attorneys signed a letter in opposition to the nomination.

“Given the Ninth Circuit’s dismal record in habeas cases, it is essential to name new judges to that court who will make it better,” Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the foundation, said in a statement. “Regrettably, President Obama chose someone who would make it worse.”

He cited a paper and op-ed that Liu wrote in 2005 attacking then-nominee, now justice, Samuel Alito, whom Scheidegger described as having a “moderate” record on criminal justice issues when he was on the Third Circuit. “Although Liu later apologized for the tone of his attack, he never retracted the substance, long after his errors and distortions had been demonstrated.  His paper shows that he believes the correct decision is in favor of the murderer on every debatable point.  We have too many such judges on the Ninth Circuit already.”

Liu had said Alito’s vision was an America “where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy ... where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance ... where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep ... where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man, absent ... analysis showing discrimination.”

Liu told his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that this “was not an appropriate way to describe Justice Alito.” He described his own language as “unduly harsh,” and added, “If I had it to do over again, I would have deleted it.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor: “Well, Professor Liu waited four years to provide that semi-apology to Justice Alito for the shameful remarks. And like so many nominees who come before the Senate Judiciary Committee, they seem to undergo a nomination conversion that changes the tone and the nature of their remarks and their attitudes, and frankly we just can’t depend on this conversion sticking.”

Republicans have made Liu their prime example of a judicial nominee who, in their view, has been so unabashedly liberal in his writings and statements that he does not deserve an up-or-down vote.

Conservatives cited Liu’s remarks about Alito and now-Chief Justice John Roberts as proof he would follow a liberal agenda on the bench.

Two senators favoring a continued filibuster were Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Both were part of a group of 14 senators who previously pledged not to filibuster judicial nominees except under extraordinary circumstances.

“The nomination of Mr. Goodwin Liu does rise to a level of extraordinary circumstances and therefore McCain will seek to filibuster the nomination,” McCain’s office said in a statement Wednesday.

Graham said: “His outrageous attack on Judge Alito convinced me that Goodwin Liu is an ideologue. Goodwin Liu should run for elected office, not serve as a judge. Ideologues have their place, just not on the bench.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told the Senate that the senators from the group of 14 are failing to uphold their own principles of filibustering only in extraordinary circumstances.

“None of them said there are extraordinary circumstances here,” Leahy said. “Well, let’s be responsible. Let’s bring it to a vote.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said, “The notion that somehow professor Liu is an ideologue ... is belied by his actual record.”

Coons added: “Why on earth this record of this exceptionally qualified man would justify a filibuster is utterly beyond me and suggests that unfortunately we’ve been mired in partisanship.”

Republicans and conservatives believe Liu expressed his true judicial philosophy in a radio interview after Obama’s election. He said then that liberals “have the opportunity to actually get our ideas and the progressive vision of the Constitution and of law and policy into practice.”

Leahy has consistently criticized Republicans, saying they have been too slow to agree to confirmation votes for positions where judges are desperately needed. So far this year, Obama has nominated 75 judges; 38 have come out of committee, with 24 of them confirmed and 14 pending before the Senate. Thirty-seven remain in committee.

The ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, disputed that. “It seems that the more we work with the majority on filling vacancies, the more complaints we hear,” he said.


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