He’s been called charming, embarrassing, brilliant and incompetent.
Since Goodwin Liu’s LAW ’98 nomination to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in late February, liberals and conservatives alike have spoken out strongly for and against the Yale grad’s possible confirmation, as some pundits on both sides anticipate his rise through the ranks of the judiciary.
Liu’s original hearing, slated for March 10, was pushed back to March 24 and again to April 16 because of Republican opposition. In a letter sent Tuesday to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republicans on the committee attempted to delay the hearing even further — a request Leahy flatly rejected. The letter, authored by the ranking Republican on the committee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, alleges that Liu’s failure to submit to the committee 117 documents pertinent to his legal philosophy until just this week raises serious questions about his candidacy.
Though Sessions’ claims were rejected, they represent widespread conservative resistance to Liu’s perceived liberal slant. But liberals and some conservatives have said that not only was President Barack Obama within his rights to select a liberal like Liu, but Liu’s judicial philosophy also falls within the mainstream anyway.
The documents Liu later submitted to the committee include transcripts of a commencement address to University of California, Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law — where he serves as associate dean — and documentation of his participation in conferences on school funding and race relations, among other topics.
Liu’s omissions — accidental or not — add fodder to an already active GOP fire: Video of Liu allegedly discussing reparations for slavery made the rounds in the blogosphere and on cable news in late March, and opponents have expressed concern that he will be an activist judge eager to push his agenda. Liberals refute both of these claims.
Advocates on both sides are fired up: For liberals, Liu represents the future of jurisprudence in America and, someday, a possible Supreme Court nominee. For conservatives, Liu would just compound the problems already plaguing the Ninth Circuit Court, which is the most active in America in terms of caseload. And Liu’s presence would only push the already-liberal court further to the left, said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which seeks to ensure the “swift and certain punishment” of people who are guilty of committing crimes.
“It’s already a major part of the Supreme Court’s workload, just reversing [the Ninth Circuit’s] errors,” Scheidegger said. “We’ve had it with this court, and [Liu’s] confirmation would make it worse. It’s just unacceptable.”
Scheidegger is hardly alone in his opposition — in March, 42 of California’s 58 district attorneys wrote a letter expressing serious concerns with Liu’s outspoken opposition to the death penalty.
Ed Whelan , the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center — which is “dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy” — and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, said the polarizing nature of Liu’s nomination seems only natural, given his ideologies.
“The left is clamoring for more liberal nominees and has been frustrated by both the slow pace of Obama’s nominations and the absence of liberal firebrands,” Whelan said. “It’s not surprising that there’s going to be a certain symmetry to the hopes of one side and the concerns of the other. We have here someone with a hard-left record and incredibly little real-world experience.”
Meanwhile, Jonathan Singer, a student of Liu’s who runs a Web site dedicated to Liu’s confirmation, dismisses the conservatives’ concerns over Liu’s nomination. These attacks, he said, amount to a smear campaign against someone he thinks has the potential to become a leading voice in the legal world.
Singer said the conservatives’ claims — that Liu’s omissions represent a troubling pattern of hiding his more controversial stances on issues from slavery reparations to affirmative action — come from conservatives’ desperation to stop Liu, not legitimate legal concerns. Singer took issue with the claim that Liu is “hard-left,” citing the support of prominent conservative legal scholars like John Yoo LAW ’92 and Kenneth Starr. (In March, Starr co-authored a letter of support for Liu with Sterling professor Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84).
“They’re doing whatever they can because they’re worried he could be one of the great jurists in American history,” Singer said.
Regardless of his critiques, Whelan said the “realist” in him expects Liu to be confirmed. Neither Scheidegger nor Singer would speculate on the proceedings, though Singer said Leahy’s rejection of Sessions’ claims was a good sign.
If confirmed, Liu, 39, would be the youngest judge on the Ninth Circuit Court, and among the youngest to ever serve on that court.