By Jeffrey Ledesma
Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) welcome Goodwin Liu before the Senate vote on May 19. Photo: Creative Commons
President Barack Obama made history in 2008 when he defeated Republican rival John McCain by becoming the first African American to head to the White House. With promises of “change we can believe in,” Obama hasn’t ceased to make historical headlines.
About six months after giving his victory speech in Chicago, Obama nominated federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Sotomayor became the first Hispanic and third female member of America’s highest court.
But recently, the Asian American community was denied a similar honor.
Republican senators used a filibuster to block a vote on Goodwin Liu’s nomination to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco since they considered him too liberal. The UC Berkeley law professor would have been the court’s only active or full-time Asian American judge.
If the 40-year-old were confirmed he would have been the only Asian American out of 175 active judges on the appeals courts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described Liu as a man living the American dream and a highly successful son of immigrants.
“His integrity has been praised by democrats and republicans,” Reid said. “Not just one or two, but many.”
Despite Reid‘s attempts to combat the filibuster with a long list of praises and qualifications, the Senate rejected cloture with a 52 to 43 vote on May 19.
According to Politico.com, the filibuster will be met with disappointment from both progressives and Asian American groups that advocated for Liu and hoped to see him seated on the Western court that covers a region of the country with a significant Asian American population.
With the exception of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who supported Liu and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who voted with the GOP, voting was almost strictly along party lines.
“I stated during the Bush administration that judicial nominations deserved an up-or-down vote, except in ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ and my position has not changed simply because there is a different president making the nominations,” Murkowski said in press release following the vote.
“This is a loss for our country and a deep disappointment for the Asian American community,” Vincent Eng told the LA Times. Eng is an Asian American civil rights advocate.
The successful GOP filibuster appears to have doomed Liu’s chances of becoming the only active Asian American on the court that serves California, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon.
Along with fellow Republicans, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Liu too progressive for the position.
“Mr. Liu said he believed that the last presidential election gave liberals, as he put it, quote, ‘a tremendous opportunity to actually get their ideas and the progressive vision of the Constitution and of law into practice.’” McConnell said. “This is repugnant.”
Americans for Limited Government echoed this feeling calling Liu “the most radical nominee to the federal bench in a generation.” Similar in sentiment, the American Center for Law and Justice called the vote “a victory for the rule of law and a sound defeat for judicial activism.”
But not everyone agreed. Many senators believed that the filibuster has set an unfortunate precedent.
“I think the ramifications of this filibuster are going to be long and difficult for those who cause this good man to be filibustered,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer of California on the senate floor.
Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley criticized the denial of cloture in a blog posted by Berkeley Law student Jonathan Singer.
“I met just this morning with a delegation of lawyers from China,” said Edley. “I had planned to talk with them about our national pride in having a federal judiciary independent of partisan politics and discuss the efforts of many in China to develop a similar legal culture.”
Edley explained that the situation with Liu’s nomination was upsetting.
“It would have been fraudulent to boast on the very day the Senate cast aside respect for merit,” he added. “The Senate has had up-or-down votes on many Republican nominees far more conservative than Goodwin is ‘liberal.’ It’s shameful.”
Law professor and former prosecutor David Sklansky described Liu as a brilliant scholar and a dedicated public servant.
The American lawyer of Taiwanese decent has been recognized for his writing on constitutional law, education policy, civil rights, and the Supreme Court.
“Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have Goodwin as a colleague, and the students have been fortunate enough to have him as a teacher, know he would have been an exemplary and fair-minded judge,” Sklansky said.
In the end, history was still made as Liu became the first judicial nominee named by President Obama to be successfully filibustered. It was the first successful filibuster of a judicial nominee since 2005.