WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama’s controversial pick for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, University of California, Berkeley law professor and liberal Goodwin Liu, faced a polarized Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday during confirmation hearings, with Democrats touting his academic success and Republicans labeling him an “activist judge.”
“The nominee represents the very vanguard of what I would call intellectual judicial activism that empowers a judge to expand government and find rights there that often have never been found before,” ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said.
Liu has faced strong criticism leading up to the hearing for failing to submit certain speeches to the committee. After Liu made his initial records submission, committee members found additional speeches from Google searches.
Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, slammed the omissions as “sloppiness,” and asked, “Can you offer me any comfort at all that this is not just an act of contempt?”
“I’m sorry I missed things the first time,” Liu said, with an extremely calm disposition that remained untouched throughout the hearing. “My record is an open book. I have no intention, and frankly I have no ability, to conceal things that I have said, written or done,” he said.
Liu explained that many of the speeches were cases in which he moderated a panel, introduced a speaker or spoke at brownbag lunches, faculty seminars and alumni events for which he didn’t keep careful record. Liu provided the speeches to the committee in a supplemental submission April 5, and said he’d be happy to do more research if the committee requested it.
“I want to do anything I can to earn the trust of the committee,” Liu said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called it “remarkably unfair,” that the committee members were using the questionnaire as a major reason to deny confirmation. “I don’t know what more a nominee can do,” she said.
Republican committee members also pushed Liu’s lack of a court record, pointing out that he has not tried cases in courts of record to verdict or final decision. Liu said he has never argued before the Supreme Court and he argued once before a federal appeals court.
But Democratic committee members said those opposing his nomination were applying a double standard to judge confirmation. They pointed out previous nominees such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Mike McConnell, who did not provide complete documentation but were easily nominated.
When Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., asked if Liu’s personal beliefs would bleed into the courtroom, Liu responded that he would view applying his beliefs “not as an agenda but an endorsement of precedents of the court.
“Personal beliefs never have a role in the act of judging,” Liu said.
“There’s a clear difference between what we write as scholars and what one would do as a judge,” Lui said, insisting that for judges, there is “no room for invention or creation of new theories.”
Republican committee members also jumped on Liu’s challenge to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination, in which he said that Alito’s vision of America was one “where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy … where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance … where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep … where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man, absent … analysis showing discrimination.”
Liu said perhaps he used “unnecessarily colorful language” to express his opinions of Alito, that he had the “highest regard” for Alito’s career, and that “he and I share an immigrant family background.”
Kyl rejected Liu’s explanation, saying, “That is not temperate language. I see it as vicious, emotionally and racially charged, intemperate and calls into question your ability to approach positions in a fair and judicious way.”
Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., shot back at Kyl’s accusation that Liu was racist, saying, “We throw around these ancillary charges so easily these days,” citing his own experience of being labeled anti-Italian for opposing Alito’s nomination when his own grandparents emigrated from Italy. “I think it’s kind of a stretch,” Leahy said to laughter.
“Whatever I may have written in articles would have no bearing on my role as a judge,” Liu said. “Our constitution is a text. It is the permanent embodiment of core principles and structure of government we have chosen as a nation,” Liu said. “The job of a judge is to give phrases and words meaning in light of society.”
“I would approach every case with an open mind,” Liu said.
Feinstein acknowledged Liu’s calm response to the intense rounds of questioning. “You’ve got amazing cool,” she said.
If nominated, Liu, 39, would be the only Asian American actively serving as a federal appeals court judge. Obama nominated another Asian American, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. He was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Republicans blocked a floor vote on his nomination. Liu’s confirmation hearing had already been delayed twice before Friday’s hearing. It was originally scheduled for March 10.
A former Rhodes Scholar and Supreme Court clerk, Liu didn’t learn English until the age of 5. The Georgia native received the highest rating from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary for his nomination.
The confirmation is being seen as a test of Obama’s ability to secure a liberal court nomination in light of the upcoming debate over a Supreme Court nominee to replace outgoing Justice John Paul Stevens.