The Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday opened what is widely regarded as the first chapter of the upcoming Supreme Court fight to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, as the committee took up the nomination of Goodwin Liu for a seat on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who lead the hearing, introduced Liu, noting that his parents, Taiwanese doctors, were recruited decades ago to the U.S. to treat under-served populations, saying his parents imbued in Liu an appreciation for freedoms in America, not available in then-militant Taiwan. Liu's parents, along with many of his family and friends, were present Friday for the hearing.
Liu, an unabashed liberal, is currently the associate dean of the University of California at Berkeley law school, and carries with him an impressive resume, but Republicans have taken exception with what they see as activist statements from the young Liu, noting his lack of courtroom experience.
Ranking Committee Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who seemed particularly stung that Liu fought the nominations of both Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, GOP rock stars, said the professor's views "represent the very vanguard of what I would call intellectual judicial activism."
Sessions quoted Liu at the time as saying that "in Judge Alito's America, the police may shoot unarmed Americans...where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep...where an all white jury may convict a black man to death," with the senator asking, "Do you think that's a fair assessment?"
Liu merely said he had used "unnecessarily colorful language," saying he has "the highest regard for Justice Alito's intellect," noting Alito's shared immigrant background.
Addressing the more than 100 items missing from the professor's original submission to the committee for its background investigation, Liu, who made no opening statement, apologized right away and said, "I'm sorry that the list is long, and I'm sorry I missed most of those the first time."
Sessions grilled Liu hard, though, noting that some of the items submitted in the recent supplement to Liu's committee questionnaire, were first found by bloggers.
Liu appeared humble and said only, "I would like to do anything I can to earn the trust of members of committee."
Liu, in answer to a question from Feinstein, said he would have "no problem" with assigning the death penalty as a punishment.
Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked, "Would you feel bound by the precedents of the Supreme Court?"
Liu answered, "Absolutely I would."
The committee delayed this confirmation hearing twice, at the request of Republicans, but Sessions was quick to note that he and fellow Republicans feel the hearing is still being rushed, saying that a mere 28 days lapsed between nomination and confirmation. Under President George Bush, Sessions said, an average of 247 days passed before hearings.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School graduate, Liu clerked for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.