SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The California Supreme Court rang with applause as the Commission on Judicial Appointments unanimously confirmed University of California Berkeley Professor Goodwin Liu to the bench late Wednesday.
Liu’s prospects for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals came to an abrupt end this year when U.S. Senate Republicans stridently opposed his nomination, partly because of his views on same-sex marriage.
Gov. Jerry Brown made Liu his first pick for the California Supreme Court in July.
“This has been the most pleasant and enjoyable judicial confirmation process known to mankind,” Liu said to laughter from the packed room.
Liu appeared uncomfortable as he was lauded with praise that ran the gamut from “warm and collegial” to “brilliant and outstanding.”
“His legal acumen and ability to write with clarity and precision will make him an asset to the court,” retired appeals court Justice Elwood Lui said.
No witnesses testified against his nomination.
During testimony from witnesses that included colleagues, a former student, the Dean of Boalt Hall at UC Berkley and Justice Ellwood, Liu sat with a finger against pursed lips.
When it came his turn to address the commission, Liu said, “After listening to the remarks of the previous speakers, frankly, I’m overwhelmed. And I’m not here to offer rebuttal. I can only hope that I can live up to all the adjectives that each of you managed to squeeze in to your three minutes.”
The three-member panel, which included Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and Appellate Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, did not ask questions of the 10 witnesses who testified to his character, intellect and collegiality.
In questioning Liu, Harris stuck to education and privacy issues.
“You’ve written about the educational inequities in our public schools. What do you believe is the scope of the state right to a public education and what does that mean to you?” Harris asked.
Liu said he could not give his opinion, as a case asserting the right to a quality public education is being litigated.
“There are precedents under the state constitution that have spoken to the equality aspects,” he said. “I am less aware of the adequacy aspect.”
Harris then asked what Liu thought of the scope of the right to privacy in the modern age.
“The notion of privacy, especially related to technology, is in a state of flux,” Liu said. “Courts should tread carefully to not make constitutional rights out of things to which the application of reasonableness is still in a state of flux.”
Cantil-Sakauye asked Liu how he planned to make the transition from educator to associate justice.
Liu said that while academia rewards creativity, judges are expected to decide cases on concrete facts.
“The contrast is made sharper by the idea that judges are bound by law precedent, text, statutes, the applicable materials that are before you. When a judge renders an opinion, they are not writing what he or she may wish the law to be. What they are doing is trying to make the best interpretation of the applicable law to that concrete litigated case.”
He continued: “The biggest part of that is as a scholar one is rewarded for stating a thesis. As a judge, it is diametrically opposite. One’s personal viewpoints have no role. That is not to say there is not a human element in the business of judging.”
The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Liu earned degrees from Stanford University, Oxford and Yale Law School. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In 2003, he joined the law faculty at UC Berkeley, becoming associate dean of the law school in 2008.
With his swearing in today (Thursday) at an invitation-only ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda in Sacramento, Liu will replace retiring Justice Carlos Moreno.
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