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Obama court nominee faces opposition

Goodwin Liu, a UC Berkeley professor nominated as an appeals court judge, is criticized by a Republican as a liberal 'beyond the mainstream.'

March 24, 2010|By James Oliphant

Reporting from Washington — Senate Republicans are preparing to mount an assault against one of President Obama's federal appeals court choices, offering a preview of a possible Supreme Court fight this summer.

Goodwin Liu, the president's pick for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, is expected to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in what promises to be a contentious hearing.

The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, calls Liu's selection "a troubling nomination" -- and suggests that Liu, a law professor at UC Berkeley, is the most left-leaning judicial nominee that the Obama White House has sent to the Senate.

"I think most senators would say he's beyond the mainstream," Sessions said in an interview.

The Obama White House generally has shied away from the kind of incendiary and partisan fights over appeals court judges that were a staple of the George W. Bush administration, preferring moderate nominees with extensive experience in the federal courts.

Even his Supreme Court nominee last year, Sonia Sotomayor, was widely viewed as a legal centrist with a nearly 20-year record as a judge.

But Liu, 39, is seen by opponents as a game-changer. By all accounts, he is an opinionated and intellectually fierce academic with no judicial experience. Given his relative youth, an appeals court post could serve as a launching pad to a Supreme Court nomination.

Sotomayor was placed on the appeals court in New York by President Clinton more than a decade before Obama named her to the high court.

Comparing Liu's judicial outlook to Sotomayor's, Sessions said, "It does appear he's gone farther than she."

Liu's advocates said he had the support of an ideologically diverse group, including former special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr and former Bush administration lawyer John C. Yoo.

"I think he's very well qualified," said Yoo, who also teaches law at UC Berkeley. "He's someone who would be chosen by a Democratic president, not a Republican one, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't be a good judge on the bench."

Starr, dean of the law school at Pepperdine University, signed a letter that praised Liu's "independence and openness to diverse viewpoints as well as his ability to follow the facts and the law to their logical conclusion, whatever its political valence may be."

Liu was suggested to the White House by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who will chair the hearing.

Sessions and other GOP committee members are expected to examine Liu on his view of the Constitution and whether he thinks new rights -- such as a right to healthcare or education -- can be identified within the 14th Amendment.

The line of questioning promises to be similar to one Republicans are likely to pursue against Obama's next Supreme Court nominee, should a justice decide to retire at the end of this term.

joliphant@latimes.com

Christi Parsons of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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