Taiwanese American Goodwin Liu, 40, withdrew from consideration for a judicial seat on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on May 25. It came after a filibuster of his nomination in the Senate on May 19.
Nearly all Senate Republicans and one Democrat banded together and rejected cloture (ending debate) on Liu’s nomination in a 52–43 vote. Liu needed 60 votes.
Liu, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was President Barack Obama’s controversial choice for the Ninth Circuit and was first named to the court by Obama more than a year ago, in February 2010.
Liu was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Stanford University, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, editor of the law journal at Yale Law School, and a law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He was strongly endorsed by the American Bar Association and conservatives like Kenneth Starr and former Associate White House Counsel to President George W. Bush Richard Painter.
Liu would have been the second active Asian American judge on the Ninth Circuit, which serves a large Asian American population. The Ninth Circuit has no active Asian American judges, although one, A. Wallace Tashima, has taken senior status, a form of semi-retirement.
“With no possibility of an up-or-down vote on the horizon, my family and I have decided that it is time for us to regain the ability to make plans for the future,” Liu wrote in a letter to Obama.
Republicans had many reasons to fear Liu. Publicly, they cited his lack of experience and pointed to his previous harsh criticism of George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, Jr., a conservative judge whose record, Liu said, was, “not the America we know. Nor it is the America we aspire to be.” Liu said he regretted his word choice in his criticisms of Alito.
GOP senators, however, could not look past it and objected to what they called an “activist” judicial philosophy, qualifying Liu as someone who was hotheaded and who would bend and mold the Constitution however he wished.
Perhaps, as many have speculated, the biggest reason why Liu was blocked by Republicans is not his social liberalism, but rather his age. At only 40 years of age, Liu would have been poised for a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court.
If this is true, it’s an example of how partisanship has gotten in the way of progress. Currently, there are 110 vacancies on the federal bench, which currently skews to the conservative side. Only 133 of Obama’s nominees have been confirmed, which is far fewer than under either Bush or Clinton. Of the 110 vacancies, about 50 are considered judicial emergencies.
The unfortunate casualties in this stalemate are Liu, and really, the American people. About one in eight judicial seats on the federal bench is vacant, which means that many times, people cannot get seen by a judge if his or her docket is too packed. This essentially means that justice is being delivered too late, if at all. ♦