Asians, Boalt Hall, California, Judicial Nominations, Law Professors, Politics, State Judges

A Conservative’s Worst Nightmare: Justice Goodwin Liu?

We recently imagined a scenario in which Professor Goodwin Liu, the controversial Boalt Hall law prof whose Ninth Circuit nomination was successfully filibustered, became Justice Goodwin Liu. It now looks like this might happen earlier than we had expected.

But he would be a justice on a non-SCOTUS court (for now). California Governor Jerry Brown just nominated Professor Liu, 40, to serve on the California Supreme Court.

How might Goodwin Liu’s nomination be received by the people of California? He’s smart, he’s liberal — er, progressive — but there’s one potential rub….

Here’s a report from the Los Angeles Times:

Gov. Jerry Brown nominated UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu to the California Supreme Court Tuesday, giving the state high court a fourth Asian justice and a collegial liberal who is likely to be strongly supportive of civil rights.

(My favorite of the four: that fabulous Filipina, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.)

Liu, a graduate of Yale Law School, is the son of Taiwanese immigrants. He was born in Georgia, grew up in Sacramento and has a history of public service.

Liu was a controversial pick for Obama, who nominated him twice. Senate Republicans criticized Liu’s selection, saying that he was too left-leaning. Liu marked the first judicial pick to be blocked outright on the Senate floor since George W. Bush’s first term.

Placing Goodwin Liu on the Supreme Court of California — and keeping him there, through retention votes — should be considerably easier than appointing him to the federal bench, given the state’s overall liberalism and the long list of legendary liberals who have served on that particular court (e.g., Rose Bird, Cruz Reynoso). But here’s a potential issue:

The appointment would fill the void left by the unexpected retirement of Justice Carlos R. Moreno, who gave Brown an early opportunity to put his stamp on the state’s highest court.

Moreno, 62, was the only Latino and Democrat on the court. When he announced his retirement he said Brown’s election cemented his decision to leave for work as either a private judge or for a private law firm.

I would have expected Jerry Brown to replace Justice Moreno with another Latino. Given California’s large Latino population, it would seem politically precarious to try and replace the one Latino justice with a non-Latino. Some Latino interest groups might grumble — and they’d have a point. It’s not like there was a shortage of impressive Latino lawyers who could have been nominated:

Other candidates who were said to be in the running included Thomas A. Saenz, a nationally known Latino civil rights lawyer who led the fight against Proposition 187, the 1994 measure that would have barred illegal immigrants from public services. Other Latinos under consideration included Southwestern Law School professor Christopher David Ruiz Cameron, who has labor backing; Stanford Law School professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar; and state Court of Appeal Justice Maria P. Rivera.

Latinos losing jobs to non-Latinos? Well, turnabout is fair play. Are Asian law professors in California like Mexican farm laborers in Arizona? It might be nice if the minorities weren’t all going up against each other for the same spot.

But if you’re going to go with a non-Latino, you might as well go with someone as impressively credentialed as Goodwin Liu. The L.A. Times ticks off some highlights from his résumé:

Before joining the Berkeley Law faculty in 2003, Liu was an appellate litigator at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and for Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He also served as special assistant to the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and as senior program officer for higher education at the Corporation for National Service (AmeriCorps).

Congratulations to Goodwin Liu — whom I knew back in law school, by the way — on his nomination to the California Supreme Court.

And who knows? Successful (and non-controversial) service on the California Supreme Court could set Liu up nicely for a U.S. Supreme Court nomination someday. There’s more than one way to skin a SCOTUS cat.

Jerry Brown nominates Goodwin Liu to California Supreme Court [Los Angeles Times]

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