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Brown taps Goodwin Liu for a Supreme Court seat

The Commission on Judicial Appointments will consider the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the Supreme Court Aug. 31 after Gov. Brown named the Boalt Hall professor to the court last month. If confirmed, he will replace Carlos Moreno, who retired in February.

The 40-year-old Liu was nominated three times by President Obama to the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, but the appointment was blocked by Senate Republicans, who considered him too liberal. He withdrew in May after his supporters fell eight votes short of the needed 60-vote majority to end a filibuster.

Goodwin Liu
Goodwin Liu

Brown called Liu “an extraordinary man and a distinguished legal scholar and teacher. He is a nationally recognized expert on constitutional law and has experience in private practice, government service and in the academic community.”

In a brief statement, Liu said, “I am deeply honored by Gov. Brown’s nomination and look forward to the opportunity to serve the people of California.”

Liu, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, will be the court’s fourth Asian if confirmed.

Although the nomination drew criticism from some Latino bar leaders, who expected a Latino appointment, and some conservative groups, Brown defended his choice. “He’s been well vetted,” said Brown, who said he had contacted Liu when he “noticed he was having trouble getting confirmed” by the Senate. “Because of that process, his strengths and his biography came to my attention. Based on that, I picked up the phone and said, ‘I’d like to talk to you.’”

Liu, Brown continued, has “been attacked by the best and sharpest politicians in the country. And so that was an unusual predicate for examining his credentials.”

The governor also said he was unconcerned about Liu’s lack of judicial experience. “There is not a requirement that people come from the court of appeals, the superior court or anything else,” he said. “It’s good among several people to have a diversity, different views, different backgrounds. He brings that.”

Brown said he did not impose a litmus test on the nominee to determine his position on such hot-button issues as same-sex marriage, which will be heard by the high court Sept. 6, or the death penalty. “I don’t pepper judicial applicants with questions like that,” Brown said. “He’s going to follow the law.”

Despite the opposition to his nomination to the federal appellate bench, Liu won the support of such well-known conservatives as former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr and Richard Painter, legal counsel to President George Bush. Conservative senators opposed his support for same-sex marriage and affirmative action and were particularly offended at his outspoken opposition to Samuel Alito, President Bush’s 2006 nominee to the Supreme Court. Liu said later he regretted some of his remarks about Alito, who won confirmation to the high court.

Colleagues at the UC Berkeley law school, where Liu joined the faculty in 2003, praised his nomination, described by Dean Christopher Edley Jr. as “absolutely brilliant.” His testimony before the Senate showed him to be “an exemplary scholar with enormous constitutional knowledge and intellectual rigor,” Edley added. “Liu is widely admired for his decency, moderation and admirable judicial temperament.”

Liu was born in Georgia and grew up in Sacramento, attending public schools there before enrolling at Stanford, where he graduated with honors. He earned a masters degree at Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar, and graduated from Yale Law School in 1998. He was a litigation attorney in the Washington, D.C., office of O’Melveny & Myers, clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and was a special assistant to the deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.

A popular teacher at Boalt, Liu has won numerous awards, including UC Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2009, the university’s highest honor for teaching excellence.

Brown forwarded Liu’s name to the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, whose ranking is not binding. The Commission on Judicial Appointments, made up of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, senior presiding judge of the state Court of Appeal, will take up the nomination at the Aug. 31 meeting.