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Senate Judiciary panel head moves forward with confirmation hearing

Goodwin Liu teaches law at University of California. Goodwin Liu teaches law at University of California.
By Laura Litvan
Bloomberg News / April 9, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy is pressing ahead with a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nominee for a San Francisco-based appeals court judge as Republicans signal a partisan battle over the pick.

Republicans on the committee demand a delay in the scheduled April 16 hearing for Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. The committee this week received almost 120 items that Liu omitted from an earlier background questionnaire.

Consideration of Liu’s appointment to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is a warmup for the debate over a Supreme Court replacement if Justice John Paul Stevens decides to retire this year, said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice in Washington and a critic of Liu’s confirmation.

Liu, 39, is a possible Obama choice for the high court in future years, and he is arguably the most liberal and potentially controversial of Obama’s judicial nominees so far, Levey said.

“It’s a valuable test run for the confirmation this summer,’’ Levey said.

Obama is seeking to reshape the judiciary after eight years of appointments by Republican former president George W. Bush. Liu is the former chairman of the board of the American Constitution Society, a Washington-based network of liberal lawyers and law students. He also served on the board of the northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Liu opposed Bush’s Supreme Court nominations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. In a July 22, 2005, editorial for Bloomberg News, Liu said Roberts’s nomination marked a “seismic event’’ that could sharpen partisan divides in the United States.

“His legal career is studded with activities unfriendly to civil rights, abortion rights, and the environment,’’ Liu said.

In a 2009 book, Liu rejected the notion, advanced by conservatives including Justice Antonin Scalia, that the Constitution should be interpreted according to the original meaning of the words adopted by the framers.

“Our Constitution retains its vitality because it has proven adaptable to the changing conditions and evolving norms of our society,’’ Liu and two coauthors wrote.

His nomination is drawing some fire in his home state. In a March 26 letter to the Judiciary Committee, 42 California district attorneys urged the panel to reject Liu because they said an earlier paper he wrote suggested he would be inclined to reverse most death penalty sentences.