March 28, 2010
An Exceptional Nominee
The first major appeals-court nomination fight of the Obama presidency may be shaping up over Goodwin Liu, a highly qualified teacher and legal scholar. Mr. Liu, nominated to the San Francisco-based United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is raising hackles on the right because of some of his legal views, and because he is seen as a strong candidate for the Supreme Court in the near future. The White House and Senate Democrats should fight hard for the confirmation.
Mr. Liu was born in Augusta, Ga., where his parents, doctors from Taiwan, moved to practice medicine in an underserved area. He graduated from Stanford, was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, and then graduated from Yale Law School. After clerking for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he became a highly regarded law professor at the University of California-Berkeley.
Mr. Liu, who is 39, has written extensively on the Constitution and education law, among other areas. His views are not uniformly liberal — he has written in support of school vouchers and charter schools, marketoriented policies that many liberals and labor unions strongly oppose. But Mr. Liu’s conservative critics are taking aim at his support for affirmative action, gay marriage rights, and national health care, and his endorsement of the view that the Constitution is a document that evolves over time.
His views fall within the mainstream of legal scholarship and American politics. Kenneth Starr, the conservative lawyer who investigated President Bill Clinton, and is now the dean of Pepperdine University School of Law, co-signed a letter endorsing Mr. Liu, vouching for his “independence and openness to diverse viewpoints.”
Perhaps the biggest factor fueling the opposition to Mr. Liu is that he was openly critical of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito at the time of their nominations. Mr. Liu’s warnings that the two men would be extremely conservative justices have turned out to be completely on target. Republicans are also worried that Mr. Liu, by virtue of his youth, stellar credentials and ethnic background, could be on Mr. Obama’s short list for a future Supreme Court vacancy.
Mr. Obama’s judicial nominees have so far been overwhelmingly centrists. A nominee like Mr. Liu stands out as an obvious target.
Mr. Liu was supposed to have his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, but Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee invoked an obscure procedural rule to put it off. There is no reason for delaying any longer. Mr. Liu’s nomination should not be a close question.
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company