Reporting from Washington — Senate Democrats rejected on Tuesday a Republican demand that next week's scheduled confirmation hearing on Goodwin Liu's nomination to a federal appeals court be postponed, setting up an all-out partisan battle over the Berkeley law professor.
Senate Republicans, who complain that Liu had originally failed to respond adequately to numerous questions on a Judiciary Committee questionnaire, pledged to continue pressing for a new hearing date.
Liu, President Obama's choice for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, had been expected to testify March 24.
But in the aftermath of the March 21 healthcare vote, Senate Republicans forced a postponement by invoking a little-used procedural rule disallowing any committee hearings more than two hours after the start of a Senate session.
Republicans say Liu's initial documentation omissions are "potentially disqualifying and . . . put his nomination in jeopardy." They charged that more time is required to review supplementary materials they received only Tuesday.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, denounced those claims.
"Committee members will have had more than seven weeks to review the nominee's record, and two weeks to review the materials submitted to the committee on April 5," Leahy said. "I see no reason to further delay this nominee's opportunity to appear before the committee and respond to the questions its members may have."
Democrats control a majority on the committee but would need at least one Republican vote for Liu on the Senate floor to stop a Republican filibuster. Any defections from conservative Democrats could make his confirmation doubtful.
In a letter to Leahy on Tuesday, Republican Senate Judiciary Committee members, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, pointed out five issues in Liu's supplemental submissions, calling particular attention to his participation in a panel discussion at a 2004 convention about the historic Brown vs. Board of Education ruling outlawing "separate but equal" education for blacks.
Republicans charged, in their letter to Leahy, that Liu had failed to declare in the questionnaire his participation in that discussion at the American Constitutional Society, a liberal legal group.
But in a statement on the website Legal Ethics Forum, Richard Painter, who was associate White House counsel under President George W. Bush, said the items Liu left out of his original disclosure form "were relatively unimportant and/or redundant of what he had already disclosed."
"It seems to me that most of these items are the types of things that law professors do routinely and frequently," Painter, now a University of Minnesota law professor, said. "They are nearly impossible to keep track of."
"I had hoped that in this new year, we could put political rancor aside and come together to openly and fairly debate President Obama's qualified judicial nominees," Leahy said in a statement. "I am disappointed that, instead, we have seen the same delays and obstructionist approach toward these nominees on the Senate floor extend to the committee's consideration."