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

Congratulations to Justice Goodwin Liu!

Say hello to Justice Liu.

Congratulations to Goodwin Liu — until today Professor Liu, but after today, Justice Liu.

In July, California Governor Jerry Brown nominated the 40-year-old Liu, a law professor at Boalt Hall, to serve on the California Supreme Court. The nomination was subject to the approval of a three-member state commission.

What did the commission have to say about the Liu nomination?

Compared to his contentious Ninth Circuit nomination, which ended up getting filibustered, Liu’s California Supreme Court hearing was a Berkeley-style love-in. Reports the San Jose Mercury News:

A three-member state commission Wednesday unanimously approved Liu’s nomination to the California Supreme Court….

In sharp contrast to the fierce opposition to his 9th Circuit nomination, Liu breezed through his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court post, heartily backed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Joan Dempsey-Klein, the state’s senior appeals court justice. In fact, while 10 witnesses testified in favor of Liu’s confirmation, none opposed him, an easy day for Gov. Jerry Brown’s first judge pick in his new administration and first to the state Supreme Court since his first term as governor decades ago.

Governor Brown will swear in Liu as a justice today, in Sacramento. Liu’s replacement of Justice Carlos R. Moreno, a Latino, gives the seven-member California Supreme Court a majority of Asian-American members, for the first time in history.

(Question for the readership: Is the California Supreme Court the first state high court with an Asian-American majority? Is it the first majority-minority state supreme court?)

UPDATE (3:30 PM): Two tidibts on this, from readers. First, regarding California:

If I remember correctly, Justice Joyce Kennard is only half-Asian [she appears to be of Dutch / Indonesian / Chinese ancestry]. Which means the seven-person Court has three-and-a-half Asians. Can you really say its minority-majority when it’s exactly 50 percent? :)

Second, from a different tipster, regarding Hawaii (discussed in the comments to this post):

Hawaii had an Asian majority on the Supreme Court before California. See this photo.

Photo’s caption: Chief Justice Recktenwald poses with the new Hawaii Supreme Court. (Left to Right): Associate Justice James E. Duffy, Jr., Associate Justice Paula A. Nakayama, Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald, Associate Justice Simeon R. Acoba, Jr., and Associate Justice Sabrina S. McKenna.

It seems that Sabrina McKenna was born in Tokyo, Japan. He full name, according to Wikipedia, is “Sabrina Shizue McKenna.” While the name, birthplace and picture are not definitive, I believe one could reasonably come to the conclusion that she is Asian.

Okay, back to Justice Liu. His arrival at the court is quite timely:

Liu will get a quick baptism as a Supreme Court justice. The court will hear a new round of cases next week, including the latest legal wrangling over Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments Tuesday on whether the sponsors of the voter-approved ballot measure have a legal right to defend the law and appeal a federal judge’s order declaring it unconstitutional when the state’s governor and attorney general refuse to do so.

Liu’s position on gay marriage was one source of criticism from conservatives who opposed his 9th Circuit nomination. As a law professor, Liu has backed the rights of same-sex couples to marry, and signed on to legal briefs supporting those rights in a 2008 case that prompted the state Supreme Court to invalidate the state’s previous ban on gay marriage.

It will be interesting to see how Justice Liu votes in the case (certified to the California Supreme Court by the Ninth Circuit). Just because he supports marriage equality does not mean he’ll vote against the Prop 8 proponents on the question of standing.

First, the Proposition 8 sponsors might be right as a matter of state law (I don’t know; I haven’t researched the issue). Second, a same-sex marriage supporter like Liu might want the proponents to have standing, so the issue of Prop 8’s constitutionality can be fully litigated — and maybe make its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, as soon as possible.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. In the meantime, congrats again to Justice Liu.

Goodwin Liu confirmed to California Supreme Court [San Jose Mercury News]
Goodwin Liu confirmed to Calif. Supreme Court [San Francisco Chronicle]
Berkeley Law Professor, Denied a Federal Judgeship, Will Join California’s Highest Court
[The Ticker / Chronicle of Higher Education]

Earlier: A Conservative’s Worst Nightmare: Justice Goodwin Liu?

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