Nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Goodwin Liu is a law professor at UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall).  An acclaimed scholar, teacher, and lawyer, Liu is a nationally recognized expert on constitutional law and education law and policy.  He would bring exceptional qualifications and valuable experience in government, law practice, and academia to his service as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  The American Bar Association gave Liu its highest rating of “Unanimously Well Qualified” based on his integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament.

A distinguished graduate of Stanford, Oxford, and Yale Law School, Liu is a Rhodes Scholar, former Supreme Court clerk, and member of the American Law Institute.  He has worked as a corporate litigator and as a key policy advisor in two federal agencies.  In 2003, Liu returned to his home state of California to join the faculty of Boalt Hall, one of the nation’s top law schools, and earned tenure and promotion to Associate Dean within five years.

Throughout his career, Liu has gained wide respect for his intellect, independence, and fair-mindedness.

•            Former Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr has praised Liu’s “strong intellect, demonstrated independence, and outstanding character.”

•            Goldwater Institute lawyer Clint Bolick endorsed Liu because of his “fresh, independent thinking and intellectual honesty.”

•            Former Republican Congressman Tom Campbell has said “Liu will bring scholarly distinction and a strong reputation for integrity, fair-mindedness, and collegiality to the Ninth Circuit.”

•            Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr has praised Liu’s “commitment to the Constitution and to a fair criminal justice system.”

•            Former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo has said Liu “is very well-qualified” and “[f]or a Democratic nominee, he’s a very good choice.”

•            Former Secretary of Transportation William Coleman has said Liu “will become an outstanding judge on the Ninth Circuit.”

•            Professor Jesse Choper, one of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars, has said Liu “is a person of excellent judgment, with carefully considered and balanced views.  I am confident he would be an especially fair jurist, and one with real intellectual horsepower.”

Raised in an immigrant family, Liu would add diversity to the federal bench.  Currently there is only one Asian American among the 160 active judges on the federal courts of appeals, and there is no active Asian American judge on the Ninth Circuit.  Liu would also fill a “judicial emergency” vacancy on the Ninth Circuit.

Upbringing and Education

Liu was born in Augusta, Georgia, to Wen-Pen and Yang-Ching Liu, both of whom came to the United States from Taiwan in the late 1960s when foreign doctors were being recruited to work in underserved areas.  They arrived with little money but worked hard to make the most of the opportunities America offered.  In 1973, the family moved to Clewiston, Florida, a small sugarcane town near the southwest shore of Lake Okeechobee.  Liu and his older brother did not learn to speak English until kindergarten because his parents worried they would acquire an accent if they were taught at home.  In 1977, the family settled in Sacramento, California, where Liu’s parents worked as primary care physicians for over twenty years.

Liu attended public schools in Clewiston and Sacramento, and his parents stressed education.  During the summer, they left math problems on the kitchen table each day for Liu and his brother to supplement their schoolwork.  But Liu was not a natural reader and he struggled with vocabulary.  For months, he stayed up late at night learning new words to prepare for the SAT.  He eventually graduated from Rio Americano High School as co-valedictorian and captain of the tennis team, and was admitted to Stanford University.

During high school, Liu had the unique opportunity to serve as a page in the U.S. House of Representatives, thanks to the sponsorship of Congressman Robert Matsui.  It was his first real exposure to law and politics, and it sparked a deep interest in government that eventually drew him to the law.

At Stanford, Liu graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was elected co-president of the student body.  He received the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award, the university’s highest honor for outstanding service to undergraduate education.  A biology major, Liu thought he would pursue medicine like his parents and his brother, now a physician in Fremont, California.  But his experiences at Stanford—in student government, as a summer school teacher for low-income youth, and as co-director of a major conference on K-12 education—moved him further toward law and public service.  He was admitted to top medical schools such as Harvard and the University of California at San Francisco, but he deferred enrollment when he won a Rhodes Scholarship.  During his two years at Oxford, he studied philosophy and reached the decision to pursue a legal career.

At Yale Law School, Liu was an editor of the Yale Law Journal and served as a teaching assistant for Civil Procedure.  With a classmate, he won the prize for best team argument in the law school moot court competition.  His article on the treatment of marriage under the Social Security laws won the award for best paper by a third-year law student and another award for best paper on taxation.  His record earned him a clerkship with Judge David S. Tatel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Public Service

Throughout his career, Liu has demonstrated a commitment to public service.  Before law school, he spent two years at the Corporation for National Service in Washington, D.C., helping to launch the AmeriCorps program.  As Senior Program Officer for Higher Education, Liu led the agency’s effort to build community service programs at colleges and universities nationwide.  He traveled to over thirty states and visited scores of campuses to encourage young people to serve.  In recognition of his work, Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona and Unity College in Maine each selected Liu to give a commencement address in 1994, and Unity College awarded him an honorary degree.

Between his clerkships, Liu returned to government service as a Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.  In that capacity, he advised the Secretary and Deputy Secretary on a range of legal and policy issues, including the development of guidelines to implement a $134 million congressional appropriation in 2000 to help turn around low-performing schools.  Former South Carolina Governor Richard Riley, who was U.S. Secretary of Education at the time, said Liu was a “ ‘go-to’ person for important projects and complex issues because of his ability to see the big picture while also mastering the details of legal and policy problems.”

Private Practice

After his Supreme Court clerkship, Liu joined the litigation practice of O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C.  He worked on a wide range of business matters, including antitrust, insurance, white collar defense, and class action defense, with appellate litigation comprising roughly half of his practice.  He also maintained an active pro bono practice, arguing a Freedom of Information Act case in the D.C. Circuit as court-appointed counsel for an indigent appellant and representing several low-income defendants through a partnership between his firm and a local public defender’s office.  Walter Dellinger, chair of O’Melveny’s appellate practice, said Liu was “widely respected in law practice for his superb legal ability, his sound judgment, and his warm collegiality.”


Liu joined the Boalt faculty in 2003 and quickly established himself as an outstanding scholar and teacher.  In 2008, he earned tenure and promotion to Associate Dean, and was elected to the American Law Institute.  An expert on constitutional law and education law and policy, Liu is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the subject of educational equity.  His writings on school choice, school finance, and desegregation focus on the needs of America’s most disadvantaged students, and his articles appear in many top law journals.  His 2006 article in the Yale Law Journal, “Education, Equality, and National Citizenship,” won the Education Law Association’s inaugural Steven S. Goldberg Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Education Law.  His book, Keeping Faith with the Constitution, co-authored with Pamela Karlan and Christopher Schroeder, was published by Oxford University Press in 2010 after an initial release by the American Constitution Society in 2009.

In the classroom, Liu is a popular and accomplished teacher.  His introductory course on Constitutional Law is one of the most over-subscribed and highly rated courses at Boalt.  As one of his students explained, “his lectures are models of clarity and thoroughness, even though he does not evade in the slightest degree the complexities, ambiguities, conflicts and outright contradictions in some of the sequences of Court decisions.”  In 2009, Liu received UC Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award, the university’s most prestigious award for teaching excellence, and he was selected that year by the graduating class to be a commencement speaker.

As a professor, Liu has stayed engaged with legal and policy issues at a practical level.  In 2006, he filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court on behalf of nineteen former University of California chancellors affirming the importance of diversity in K-12 public schools.  He currently serves as outside counsel to the San Francisco Unified School District in its effort to redesign its student assignment system.  On many occasions, he has advised governors, legislators, and federal and state policymakers on school finance reform.  Recognizing his reputation for intellect and real-world judgment, the California Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees in 2008 invited Liu to testify as a neutral expert on the legal impact of Proposition 8.  His testimony accurately forecasted the California Supreme Court’s May 2009 ruling upholding the same-sex marriage ban while barring its retroactive application.

As Associate Dean of the law school, Liu oversaw the curriculum and took the lead in setting instructional priorities.  He also oversaw the promotion process for tenure-track faculty, helped hire new faculty, and supervised the law school’s lecturers and adjunct faculty.  “Goodwin is admired by his colleagues for his integrity, fairness, and good judgment,” said Christopher Edley, Dean of Boalt Hall.  “He is one of the brightest and most capable colleagues I’ve had in my three decades in academia.”

Over the years, Liu has contributed his time and expertise to a wide range of educational, professional, and nonprofit causes.  For example, he served on a UC Berkeley faculty advisory committee that helped launch the California College Prep Academy, an Oakland charter school that serves predominantly low-income African American and Latino students.  He currently serves on the Stanford University Board of Trustees and chairs the board’s Special Committee on Investment Responsibility.  He also serves on the Boards of Directors of the Alliance for Excellent Education, American Constitution Society, National Women’s Law Center, and Public Welfare Foundation.

Family and Personal Life

Liu is married to Ann O’Leary, the daughter of a social worker and a union leader, grew up in an Irish American community in Orono, Maine.  She is the founding Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Center on Health, Economic & Family Security.  The couple married in 2002 at a small farm in Rappahannock County, Virginia.  Students who have studied Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court case invalidating restrictions on interracial marriage, in Liu’s constitutional law class are familiar with a wedding photo that shows him and his new bride at the end of their ceremony, with an American flag visible in the background—an image that Liu uses to illustrate the law’s impact on everyday life and his own faith in the Constitution.  Liu and his wife have a three-year-old daughter, Violet, and infant son, Emmett.