Bitter Health Care Fight Spills Over to Judicial Nominee

Posted March 23, 2010 at 6:59pm

Senate Judiciary Republicans are looking to defeat the lifetime judicial appointment of Goodwin Liu to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by painting him as President Barack Obama’s most extreme pick and a likely advocate of universal health care from the bench.

“I have not seen any nominee’s opinions go that far,” Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said in an interview, noting that Liu’s legal writings indicate that equal protection under the 14th amendment includes health care coverage.

The argument against Liu, a law professor at the University of California-Berkley, is the first time that Republicans have injected the partisan health care debate into the confirmation of a judicial pick. With more than a dozen attorneys general across the country pledging to file legal cases against the sweeping health care measure that was signed into law Tuesday, GOPers consider Liu’s nomination particularly problematic. They also criticize his record as thin, since he has never served on the bench.

Liu, 39, is the son of Taiwanese immigrants and, if confirmed, would be the only Asian-American judge currently serving in a circuit court, although U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Denny Chin could win that honor if he is confirmed first. Republicans fear that Liu, whose background in some ways parallels that of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, could soon be tapped for the high court. “I have had people ask whether this would be indicative of who President Obama picks for his next Supreme Court judge,” Sessions said. “If that’s so, we’ll have to have a discussion about the role of a judge in the American democratic system.”

Democrats have run into some difficulty clearing judicial nominees this year. Currently there are 22 judges awaiting confirmation on the Senate calendar, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has had to file cloture on two judicial nominees this Congress.

While Republicans will seek to paint Liu as a would-be activist judge, Democrats are expected to focus on his credentials and the backlog of nominations that have been slow to clear this year.

“Goodwin Liu is yet another example of the highly qualified nominees President Obama has tapped to fill vacancies on the federal judiciary,” a Senate aide said.

“Senate Republicans unfairly, and inaccurately, targeted professor Liu before the president even announced his nomination and before he has had a chance to answer a single question at a hearing,” the aide added. “When professor Liu testifies Wednesday, Senators on both sides of the aisle will find a well-spoken, thoughtful, independent nominee.”

Tina Matsuoka, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, encouraged the Judiciary Committee to “focus on questions of whether he has the intellectual capacity, integrity and temperament to serve as a federal judge rather than devolve into a partisan battlefield or a referendum on certain hot-button issues.”

Sessions said he was “flabbergasted” with such claims.

“No, this is not a mainstream nominee in any shape, form or fashion,” he said. “The question to me is does he have the background, the experience, and do his academic writings indicate that he’s out of the mainstream. So far, it looks that way to me.”