WASHINGTON — In a portent of the potential battle this summer over the Supreme Court, Goodwin Liu, President Barack Obama's choice for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, faced a fusillade of criticism Friday from Senate Republicans.
Liu, 39, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, is considered among the most liberal of Obama's judicial nominees.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Liu "the very vanguard of what I would call an intellectual judicial activist."
Republicans pointed to Liu's lack of judicial experience: He has never been a judge and has argued few cases in court.
Democrats praised Liu as a nominee whose credentials and background are unassailable and pointed out that two dozen Bush administration nominees similarly had never been judges.
Liu is a child of Taiwanese immigrants, a former Rhodes scholar with an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a law degree from Yale Law School.
Liu said that he would be bound by judicial precedent and that there was no room for a judge to insert personal views into a case. "The role of a judge is to faithfully follow the law as it is written," he told the committee.
Liu struggled to reconcile some of the policy positions in his academic writings with that role. He has criticized conservative legal doctrine, written that the interpretation of the Constitution must evolve and adapt to a changing society and theorized that people may have a constitutional right to "welfare" benefits, such as education and shelter, if those things are bestowed upon them by legislative action.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., unleashed the most vitriolic attack on Liu in addressing the nominee's criticism of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Liu testified before the Judiciary Committee in 2006 in opposition to Alito's confirmation. "Judge Alito's record envisions an America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse … where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man," Liu said then. "I humbly submit that this is not the America we know. Nor is it the America we aspire to be."
Liu conceded he had used overly "colorful language" in his testimony.
The hearing was dominated by Republicans, but they ultimately hold little sway on a committee where Democrats outnumber them 12-7. That means Liu is likely to receive its stamp of approval as early as next month. Democrats would likely need 60 votes to move Liu's nomination to a floor vote.