Law professor Liu confirmed for California high court

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 31, 2011 8:58 PM
Law professor Liu confirmed for California high court

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Goodwin Liu, a University of California law professor whose confirmation to a federal appeals court was blocked in the U.S. Senate, was confirmed on Wednesday to serve as a justice on California's top court.

A judicial appointments panel unanimously confirmed Liu, who had been nominated by Governor Jerry Brown to serve as a state Supreme Court justice in late July.

The move came after Republicans in the U.S. Senate successfully blocked Liu, 40, from receiving a floor vote for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Liu's nomination to the federal bench sparked heated public debate, with liberal groups lining up behind him and conservatives arguing that Liu's judicial philosophy was outside the mainstream.

President Barack Obama had been forced twice to renominate Liu when earlier nominations expired. Conservatives particularly took issue with Liu's vocal opposition to Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Little of that rancor was on display during Liu's nomination process in California.

After a hearing on Wednesday in San Francisco that lasted little more than an hour, the three members of California's Commission on Judicial Appointments asked Liu a total of five questions.

That followed a parade of 10 speakers extolling Liu, who called it the "most pleasurable, enjoyable confirmation possible."

A constitutional law professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, Liu was a former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and practiced for two years at the law firm O'Melveny & Myers in Washington.

The state bar's Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation called Liu "exceptionally well qualified."

At the hearing, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye asked Liu to describe the differences between the roles of an academic, and that of a judge.

"As a scholar, the job is primarily I think to be provocative," he said, adding: "As a judge, the impulse I think is much different."

While Liu acknowledged a "human element" to judging, he said a judge's personal viewpoint should play no role in the process. Liu, who succeeds Justice Carlos Moreno, is scheduled to be sworn in by Brown on Thursday in Sacramento.

Brown faced pressure to appoint a Latino nominee to fill the spot left vacant by Moreno, a Latino justice who retired earlier this year. Latinos comprise more than one-third of the population in California, according to U.S. Census figures.

Along with Cantil-Sakauye, California Attorney General Kamala Harris voted for Liu, as did Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of California's Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District.

(Reporting by Dan Levine, Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)