Hurdles loom for Obama’s choice for appeals court

Associated Press / May 14, 2010

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WASHINGTON — President Obama’s pick for a San Francisco-based appeals court survived his first Senate test yesterday but still faces strong Republican opposition.

The Judiciary Committee voted 12-7 along party lines to recommend confirmation of Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California Berkeley’s law school.

At stake is the ability of Obama and congressional Democrats to get liberal nominees through the Senate.

While it’s unclear whether Republicans will try to block a vote, a clear sign of trouble came from Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Judiciary Committee who has broken with his party on some judicial nominees, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“I’m in the camp that you can be an active Democrat . . . and still sit on the bench,’’ Graham said. “But this guy’s a bridge too far for me..’’

If confirmed, Liu would be only the second Asian-American on a federal appellate court. Denny Chin was confirmed for the New York-based Second Circuit appeals court April 22.

Knowing they had the votes, majority Democrats spent little time countering Republicans who assailed Liu as an activist who would rewrite the Constitution — a theme the GOP has used since his nomination.

Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said the opposition reflected Republican politics. “Today’s debate and vote will likely say more about the senators voting than about professor Liu,’’ he said. “No fair-minded person who attended his hearing can doubt his temperament. He answered every question. He assured this committee that he understands the role of a judge, and the need for a judge to follow the law and adhere to the rule of law.’’

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking Republican on the committee, said Liu’s writings indicate he would adapt the Constitution to his own liberal views on the death penalty, welfare rights, education, and tax credits for the poor.