Does the Tea Party Dislike Goodwin Liu?

by Beverly Mann

Does the Tea Party Dislike Goodwin Liu?

Politico had an article last week called “Will Senate ever vote on Liu?” Liu is Goodwin Liu, a prominent liberal Constitutional Law professor at the UC, Berkeley. His official profile at the U. is here.

Obama nominated him in 2009 to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the appellate court for the west coast states, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, and by far the largest of the federal appellate courts. His Judiciary Committee hearing was held more than a year ago, and the nomination was voted out of that Committee more than a year ago but was never brought to a floor vote because Republicans planned to filibuster it. Obama renominated him early this year, and his Committee confirmation hearing was held yesterday. The Politico article says this time the nomination will be brought to a floor vote but that his confirmation is unlikely.

The Politico article summarizes the controversy about his nomination:

Liu, 39, has captured the hopes of liberals who see him as one of Obama’s few bold judicial picks, someone with the intellect and youth for the circuit court bench, a traditional stepping stone to the Supreme Court. But Republicans have argued that he lacks any judicial experience, his legal writings are proof of his intention to legislate from the bench, and his criticism of Supreme Court Judge Samuel Alito after he was nominated to the court revealed an inexperienced social activist who has no place on a federal bench.

The article says the Democrats and the Obama administration blame Senate gridlock, generally, on judicial nominees for the Senate’s earlier failure to confirm Liu, but “Republicans have suggested that Democratic leadership had been unwilling to take time on the Senate calendar in order to entertain a lengthy floor debate about Liu’s positions on controversial issues like affirmative action and the death penalty.”

Apparently what offends the Republican senators the most about Liu is that he testified against Samuel Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2006, saying that Alito’s record as a federal appellate judge suggested that he “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 has retracted the comment and apologized for it, and said yesterday in his opening statement that it “was not an appropriate way to describe Justice Alito as a person or his legal views.”

He’s probably right that that statement was not an appropriate way to describe Justice Alito as a person or his legal views. The statement was, after all, about Samuel Alito, not Clarence Thomas. But the fact remains that Alito, like Thomas, selects a (very) few constitutional rights that he votes to interpret broadly, almost always those that are part of the rightwing political agenda, circa 1985, and, like Thomas, votes to effectively decimate the other constitutional rights, certainly when it comes to the rights of criminal defendants, but also concerning the rights of others. (Unlike Thomas, Alito and his spouse haven’t claimed intellectual-property rights to “Liberty.”)

The Politico article quotes Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus as saying, “We will have to work very, very hard on his behalf and I know that Goodwin Liu is intending to meet with every senator that he can. I hope that through his one to one meetings people will see how reasonable and measured he is, and he can get enough support so that he can break through cloture.”

But Chu and the White House should focus their efforts as well on noting that Liu, unlike Alito, is a strong civil libertarian in most respects, not just the respects that rightwing ideology dictates, and certainly not just in the respects that Reagan-era rightwing ideology dictates. And although Washington has yet to recognize this, the two—Tea Party ideology and Reagan-era rightwing ideology—diverge significantly, at least in theory, on many legal issues, including concerning the issues that they really care about.

I mean, how many Tea Partiers really care one way or the other about the death penalty? Or, for that matter, about affirmative action? What they do care about is civil liberties, generally, not just a few select ones.

So moderate Republican senators who vote for cloture on Goodwin Lui’s nomination probably won’t be defeated by a Tea Party candidate in a primary election because of that cloture vote. If it’s mentioned at all, say in a TV ad by some private group (the Koch crowd, maybe?), the senator could simply respond that Liu is a libertarian.

And, if necessary, that Alito is almost entirely not.


Beverly Mann maintains her own blog at the Annarborist