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Obama court nominee Goodwin Liu withdraws after filibuster

UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu's decision is a victory for Senate Republicans. The GOP said Liu would bring an expansive view of rights to an already liberal-leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

May 25, 2011|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau
  • Goodwin Liu was a polarizing choice for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans said the UC Berkeley law professor would bring an expansive view of rights to an already liberal-leaning court.
Goodwin Liu was a polarizing choice for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.… (Laura Morton / For The Times )

Reporting from Washington — Goodwin Liu, President Obama's polarizing choice for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, has withdrawn from consideration after last week's filibuster of his nomination in the Senate.

"With no possibility of an up-or-down vote on the horizon, my family and I have decided that it is time for us to regain the ability to make plans for the future," Liu wrote in a letter to Obama on Wednesday.

Liu's withdrawal is a victory for Senate Republicans, who last week banded together to deny the UC Berkeley law professor a confirmation vote. GOP senators said Liu would bring an expansive view of rights under the Constitution to an already liberal-leaning 9th Circuit Court.

They may also have feared that Liu, 40, eventually would be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by a future Democratic president.

Liu's decision is a setback for the White House as well as for liberal interest groups, who fiercely backed him, and Asian American civil rights advocates, who made Liu's confirmation a priority. The 9th Circuit has no active Asian American judges, although one, A. Wallace Tashima, has taken senior status.

In his letter, Liu cited the pressing need for new judges to tackle the caseload on the appeals court, saying it appeared clear that no action would be taken on his nomination in the near future.

Last week, he became the first judicial nominee to be successfully filibustered on the Senate floor since President George W. Bush's first term. After 10 judges were blocked then by minority Democrats, senators on both sides of the aisle agreed that judges would not be denied an up-or-down vote except under "extraordinary circumstances."

Republicans said Liu's nomination was the kind of extraordinary case that warranted a filibuster.

The GOP pointed to articles in legal periodicals in which Liu expressed support for constitutional rights to education and child care. They also objected to his testimony five years ago in opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Liu was first named to the court by Obama in February 2010, but his nomination languished once Republicans insisted they would oppose him. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) failed to push for Liu's confirmation when he had a larger majority in the Senate, a sign to some supporters that his approval was not a high priority.

Reid's sudden push for a vote last week was greeted with surprise, but the odds for Liu's confirmation hadn't improved. Republicans sustained a filibuster with a 52-43 vote. Sixty votes were needed to cut off debate and advance the nomination.

Liu's decision frees the White House to make a new nomination to fill the vacancy on the appeals court.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

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