Candidate for appellate court faces GOP attack

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post / April 17, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans mounted a concerted attack yesterday on federal appeals court nominee Goodwin Liu in a session that both parties see as a warm-up for the coming fight to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.

Liu, an associate dean at the University of California at Berkeley law school, is being vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee for a slot on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers nine Western states. Groups on the left strongly support him and many on the right oppose him for the same reason: Liu is an outspoken liberal whose writings have promoted the idea that interpreting the Constitution requires much more than just divining the intent of the Founding Fathers.

In their interrogation of Liu, Senate Republicans are testing arguments they will use when President Obama nominates a successor to Stevens.

Many Democrats hope Obama will name an outspoken liberal in the mold of Liu, and plan to mount a vigorous defense of the Ninth Circuit nominee to demonstrate that such a candidate can clear the Senate gantlet.

At the hearing, minority ranking member Jeff Sessions of Alabama made clear his belief that Liu’s writings “represent, I think, the very vanguard of what I would call intellectual judicial activism.’’

Liu parried Republicans’ charges with nuanced answers, saying he found both the “originalist’’ and “judicial activist’’ labels insufficiently precise to be useful.

Liu said the original intent of the Constitution’s framers was “very important’’ for judges to consider, but “it is not the sole touchstone’’ of legal interpretation.