© 2024 WEMU
Serving Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, MI
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Republicans Block Liu's Judicial Nomination


The House Ethics Committee yesterday announced formal charges against Representative Maxine Waters. She's a Democrat from here in Los Angeles, accused of using her influence to help a struggling, minority-owned bank. Her husband held stock in that bank.


The charges suggest that Waters ignored a warning to stay away from the potential conflict of interest. She allegedly allowed her chief of staff, who's also her grandson, to grant, quote, special favors to the bank.

Waters has denied any wrongdoing, and asked for a trial before this fall's election.

MONTAGNE: On the Senate side, one of the issues is inaction. Senators have returned several of President Obama's judicial nominations to the White House after failing to act on them for months.

About a hundred judge slots - representing some 10 percent of the judicial branch - are still waiting to be filled. Among them is Goodwin Liu, considered the president's most controversial judicial nominee.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON: Goodwin Liu spent his youth filling cabinets with his academic trophies. Born to Taiwanese parents, Liu learned English in kindergarten. He became a Rhodes Scholar, a Supreme Court clerk, and an award-winning law professor at the University of California. And did we mention he's only 39 years old?

Mr. VINCENT NG (Lobbyist): This is an exceptionally bright individual who has a long record of success. When I look at his CV and all the stuff that he's achieved throughout his life, he achieved all these things when most people are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.

JOHNSON: That's Vincent Ng. He's been hired to lobby the White House and the Senate to move forward on Liu's nomination to sit on the appeals court in the Ninth Circuit in California. That court hears important disputes about gay marriage and the environment. Ng says he's hopeful that Liu, a liberal, will be re-nominated in September and quickly confirmed.

Prominent conservatives like Ed Whelan say they aren't so sure.

Mr. ED WHALEN: Well, Goodwin Liu is the most controversial of President Obama's circuit court nominees so far. He has a far left record as an academic, combines that with striking inexperience - it's a very volatile mix, and he is that rare nominee who might actually make the Ninth Circuit worse that it already is.

JOHNSON: Liu has some negatives - no prior experience as a judge, and he's also outspoken. He criticized Chief Justice John Roberts, and testified against Justice Sam Alito during the Bush years. Liu didn't do himself many favors after his nomination. He forgot to tell the Senate about lectures on controversial topics, such as affirmative action and the presidential race.

Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama says the episode troubled him.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): I do believe that he did not spend nearly enough time in evaluating the questionnaire and properly responding to it to a degree that I've not seen, I think, since I've been in the Senate.

JOHNSON: But when it comes to judges and the Senate, Caroline Fredrickson says nothing is working.

Ms. CAROLINE FREDRICKSON (American Constitution Society): The real issue here is the broader context of what's going on with the federal judiciary.

JOHNSON: Fredrickson leads the American Constitution Society, and she says the sheer number of unfilled spots on the federal bench - almost 10 percent of the entire judiciary - is prompting legal groups and judges to speak out.

Ms. FREDRICKSON: We're at a point of unprecedented partisanship and bitter feuding between the two parties over judicial nominees, at a level that has never happened before. And the impact is that you have nominees who are languishing for months - and some of them, for over a year.

JOHNSON: Liu has tenure at the University of California, so he's not in danger of losing his day job. But like other nominees, he can't publicly defend himself, and he's got to be careful about speaking engagements and activities. At his Senate hearing in April, Liu spent nearly four hours on the hot seat, trying to portray himself as open-minded, far from the liberal firebrand his critics attack.

Professor GOODWIN LIU (University of California): In my scholarship, I hope that the record shows that I am a rigorous and disciplined person who makes arguments carefully in a nuanced way.

JOHNSON: And Liu's friends say there's ample history of the Senate confirming controversial law professors. They point to Michael McConnell, a Republican nominee with a similar history of provocative writings. He made his way through the Senate in the Bush era without a hitch.

Obama administration officials say Liu will be re-nominated in mid-September. But where the Senate takes his nomination, no one yet knows.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.