It was clear even before he was nominated that Goodwin Liu would stir up activists as few other Obama judicial nominees have. Since he was named on Feb. 24, supporters and opponents both have jumped into vigorous debate over what Liu's jurisprudence would look like if he were confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has appeared on television to criticize Liu, while former Bush Justice Department official Ed Whelan is churning out National Review blog posts. On the other side, the University of California at Berkeley, where Liu is a law professor and associate dean, is touting letters from those who support Liu because of his academic work and his advocacy for private-school vouchers, often a cause of conservatives.
One of Liu’s students, Berkeley 3L Jonathan Singer, has started a blog to gather material favoring Liu’s nomination. Singer, in an interview, said he wanted to counter conservatives’ attempt to label Liu as a liberal firebrand.
“He needs people who support him to speak up for him,” said Singer, noting the custom for judicial nominees to remain publicly silent except for their appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “When people don’t stand up for nominees of this quality, who would add this much to the federal bench, then those nominees won’t be put forward in the future.”
The level of activity is unusual for one of President Barack Obama’s circuit court nominees, though several of President George W. Bush’s nominees caused similar fissures. It reflects in part Liu’s leadership of several liberal legal groups. He is chairman of the American Constitution Society, and from 2005 to 2008 he was on the board of the ACLU of Northern California.
The debate could heat up further with the release of Liu’s answers to a Senate questionnaire, now posted (PDF) online.
Singer, who is taking a constitutional law class with Liu and previously took a class on education policy with him, acknowledged it might be unusual for a student to be so vocal for a current professor. But he said that he hasn’t spoken about it with Liu and that other students have expressed an interest in pitching in. (Singer added that he probably has a closer relationship with his academic adviser, John Yoo, another Berkeley law professor who has been in the news. He’s taken two of Yoo’s classes.) Singer also blogs here.
Among Liu’s other supporters is Clint Bolick, director of the Goldwater Institute in Arizona. Bolick wrote a letter (PDF) to Senate Republicans praising Liu’s “courage and integrity” in supporting vouchers to pay private school tuition.
Potential opposition to Liu is ramping up, too. In an interview last week on Fox News, Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, made clear that he’s skeptical of the nomination. Liu, he said, “believes the Constitution is something judges can manipulate to have it say what they think culture or evolving standards of decency requires on a given day.”
An editorial in the conservative Washington Times on March 3 called Liu “another radical judicial nominee” whose name Obama should withdraw. The liberal Media Matters for America authored a rebuttal, saying Liu’s views are well-grounded in Supreme Court precedent.
Obama named Liu along with Judge Robert Chatigny, nominated for the 2nd Circuit. Chatigny, now on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday for his confirmation hearing. A hearing date for Liu has not been announced.