Senate vote last step in professor's appointment


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Despite Republican contention, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Thursday morning in favor of bringing UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu's nomination for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to the full Senate for confirmation.

In the past year since President Barack Obama first tapped Liu for the position, the nomination has been returned to Obama twice. Many consider the nomination of Liu - which was passed by the committee with a 10-8 vote - as one of Obama's most controversial.

At Thursday's committee Executive Business Meeting, Republicans questioned Liu's qualifications for the position and reiterated concerns about him promoting a liberal interpretation of the Constitution.

In last year's congressional session, Liu testified before the Judiciary Committee, after which Republican senators confronted him with supplemental questions via email. Republicans asked to hold the vote over for a week and then voted along party lines in favor of bringing it to the full Senate.

However, the Senate never voted to confirm the nomination, and Liu was renominated twice before having to testify a second time in the current congressional session. The vote was held over twice before finally proceeding this morning.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said at the meeting this morning that Liu had no meaningful experience as a practicing attorney and that he would "use the court to promote his own progressive agenda."

Democratic senators rebuffed Republican claims that Liu lacks experience, citing numerous scholars and lawyers - many of whom are conservatives - who have attested to Liu's intellect and credibility.

"Liu deserves the same chance to step out of the academic world and into the robe and role of a judge," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Republicans also expressed concern that Liu's published work suggests that he would adhere to a very loose interpretation of the Constitution.

"I believe that the Constitution must control judges, not the other way around," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, echoing a common Republican philosophy that the Constitution should be adhered to as the framers intended it to be at the time of its composition.

However, Feinstein said that "originalism" is but one method of constitutional interpretation and should not be a requirement for nomination.

Liu, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law since 2003, specializes in constitutional law, and has been a commentator for major media outlets, including National Public Radio and The New York Times. He is a Rhodes Scholar and won the campus Distinguished Teaching Award in 2009.

"He came to us with a very distinguished background and had worked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg," said Herma Hill Kay, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Law. "He has just been a spectacular teacher and scholar and member of the university community."

Though the nomination now awaits a majority vote for Senate confirmation, Republican senators could still filibuster the vote unless the Democrats acquire the needed 60 votes to block such a filibuster.

"My heart says vote for Goodwin Liu, but my brain tells me something different," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. "I ultimately will not vote him at the committee and am not sure that I'm right. I think ultimately he will get confirmed and my hope would be that he proves my heart right and my mind wrong."

Jonathan Singer, a graduate of the law school who operates a website in support of Liu, said he believes that though senators like Coburn will not vote for Liu due to partisan politics, they may not filibuster the nomination, which would pave the way for confirmation.

"I think that it is time to give it an up or down chance so that the president and the people who support him and the people who oppose him can finally get this decided one way or another," Kay said.


Contact Emma at [email protected]

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