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Editorial

Quit stalling on these judges

The Senate needs to act on three well-qualified Obama nominees to the federal bench.

September 29, 2010

President Obama's nominations to the federal bench have been stalled by Republicans in continuation of a partisan feud that dates back, depending on who's counting, to the George W. Bush, Clinton or Reagan administrations. Three California nominees are emblematic of the problem. They were all approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee months ago and received stellar evaluations from the American Bar Assn., but it's possible they won't be confirmed by the Senate (or will be rejected, though that would be a travesty) before the 111th Congress winds down.

Two of the nominees are for the U.S. District Court, the labor-intensive front line of the federal judicial system. Both Edward M. Chen, nominated for the Northern District of California, and Kimberly Mueller, chosen for the Eastern District, are currently federal magistrate judges. Both were unanimously rated "well qualified" by an ABA panel. Chen was first approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in October 2009; Mueller was approved in May of this year. No serious objections have been raised to either nomination, though some conservatives have complained, outrageously, about Chen's past affiliation with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The third candidate whose nomination has been languishing is UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu, selected for a seat on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over California and other Western states. Liu was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee first in May and again this month after Obama resubmitted his nomination. He also was unanimously rated "well qualified" by the ABA panel.

Republicans complain that Liu is out of the mainstream — code language for the fact that he is more liberal in his judicial philosophy than other nominees. A book Liu coauthored did argue that the Constitution should be interpreted "in order to sustain its vitality in light of the changing needs, conditions and understandings of our society." But in embracing that approach, Liu is more in the philosophical mainstream than some conservative judges who base their decisions on a narrow interpretation of the Constitution's "original meaning." And the chief argument against him — that he believes judges should find economic rights in the Constitution — resulted from a misreading of one of his academic articles.

Republicans are free to oppose these and other Obama nominees. But they shouldn't prevent up-or-down votes on their nominations. California's two senators need to press — and, if necessary, shame — their colleagues on the other side of the aisle to let the full Senate have its say.

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