Republican senators said today they have no plans to forgive Goodwin Liu for his 2006 testimony against the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito Jr., adding to Liu's own steep climb toward a federal judgeship.
Liu, a prominent liberal law professor, has twice told senators he regrets the testimony. Most recently, in response to a question from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) during a March 2 confirmation hearing, Liu said it was “a case of poor judgment.” But Coburn said today he still opposes Liu for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
“We all make mistakes in life, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are consequences for what we’ve done,” Coburn said during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
First-year Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who twice clerked for Alito, said Liu’s comments were “offensive” and an “unfair personal attack on a dedicated public servant.” He questioned why Liu didn’t renounce them before his own nomination in February 2010. “It was then, and so far as I know only then, that he offered any apology for his criticism of Justice Alito,” Lee said.
The committee sent Liu’s nomination to the full Senate on a party-line vote for the third time in a year, though there’s no guarantee he will ever receive a final confirmation vote. None of the Senate’s 48 Republicans has said he will support Liu. Senate rules require 60 senators to break a filibuster.
“I think there’s a definite possibility of a filibuster because of the extraordinary circumstances posed by this nomination,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, after the committee meeting. The phrase “extraordinary circumstances” echoes a 2005 compromise regarding judicial filibusters, and Kyl added, “If any nominee meets that test, this one does.”
Democrats said the objections to Liu’s judicial philosophy are unfounded and pointed to his academic record, including a Rhodes scholarship, as well as his tenured professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. Some prominent Republican lawyers, including former solicitor general Kenneth Starr, have endorsed Liu’s nomination.
“There’s fear on the other side, that this man may be so good that one day he may end up on the Supreme Court, and therefore you have to stop him before he gets to the circuit court,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “This is a brilliant man. He should be confirmed.”
Kyl said during the committee meeting that his reason for opposing Liu is not that Liu might be a future Supreme Court nominee. But he said “it wouldn’t be the first time that it was a reason,” citing the failed Republican circuit nomination of Miguel Estrada, a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner who has been mentioned as a Supreme Court nominee. Democrats repeatedly filibustered Estrada.
Without debate, the Judiciary Committee unanimously endorsed four district court nominees. They included two nominees for the Southern District of New York: J. Paul Oetken, senior vice president and associate general counsel at Cablevision Systems Corp., and Paul Engelmayer, head of the New York office of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.
The committee also gave its approval to legislation that would allow federal judges to open up their courtrooms to radio and television coverage. A similar bill won committee approval last year before dying in the full Senate.
Updated at 12:23 p.m.