The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines today to advance the nomination of law professor Goodwin Liu to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, signaling they're not ready to give up on one of President Barack Obama's most controversial nominees.
Liu’s nomination now heads back to the full Senate, where a protracted fight awaits. Republicans have not ruled out a filibuster — a tactic that Democrats used against some of President George W. Bush’s nominees and that could become much more effective if Republicans gain a significant number of seats with the November elections.
Senators also voted largely along party lines to advance three nominees for federal district court: Louis Butler Jr., a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, for the Western District of Wisconsin; Edward Chen, a U.S. magistrate judge, for the Northern District of California; and John McConnell Jr., a Motley Rice partner, for Rhode Island.
The committee had previously backed all four nominees. It did so again after Republicans forced their names to be sent back to the White House in August.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) expressed frustration that the full Senate has not held votes on the nominees. “We have debated Goodwin Liu over and over again,” he said.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Liu (pictured above) would violate his judicial oath “as soon as he takes it” because, Coburn said, Liu’s judicial philosophy is incompatible with unbiased judging. Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, is a former chairman of the liberal American Constitution Society, and Republicans sharply criticized his writings at his April confirmation hearing.
There was more consensus in the committee for advancing three nominees for Washington-based federal courts: Kathleen O’Malley, an Ohio federal judge chosen for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; Beryl Howell, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission chosen for U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; and Robert Wilkins, a Venable partner also chosen for U.S. District Court.
The three nominees advanced on voice votes that appeared to be unanimous. They now head to the full Senate.
A vote on Robert Chatigny, a Connecticut federal judge chosen for the 2nd Circuit, was postponed at least a week when the Judiciary Committee lost a quorum.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.