Goodwin Liu

  • April 11, 2013

    by John Schachter

    If “fracking” is one of the buzzwords in the energy policy world these days then “court fracking” might become a new legal catchphrase.

    Court fracking: (noun) the insertion of blatant politics into the judicial system to extract seats on the nation’s second most important court (i.e., the D.C. Circuit) eliminating one and dispersing others to dilute the potential impact of progressive jurists.

    Unlike President Franklin Roosevelt’s ill-fated court-packing scheme of 1937, this fracking plan comes from Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). During yesterday’s hearing on the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Sen. Grassley announced that he was introducing legislation to reduce the number of seats on the D.C. Circuit – often called the nation’s second most important court – from 11 to eight. Two of the seats would be moved to other circuit courts while one would be eliminated completely.

    Today just seven of the 11 seats are occupied, although President Obama has now nominated two people for seats – the first of whom Republicans successfully filibustered over the course of three years! Caitlin Halligan in 2010, 2011 and again just last month saw her path to the court blocked by Republicans who apparently feared the presence of more progressive brilliant thinkers on a court currently composed of four Republican appointees and three Democratic ones. And, for good measure, Republicans also blocked a vote on Goodwin Liu in 2010 and 2011 for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

    Few objective court watchers could challenge Halligan or Liu on serious substantive grounds. Ideology is another matter. While Republican critics portrayed Liu as a rogue activist, his year and a half on the California Supreme Court since his failed federal nomination reveal him to be a brilliant, well-respected and impartial jurist. Halligan had strong support from some the nations’ leading legal minds – including former officials from the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations – yet Republicans characterized her as a virulent anti-gun activist rather than the esteemed legal thinker she has proven to be.

  • July 21, 2011

    by Nicole Flatow

    Following the Senate’s confirmation of J. Paul Oetken as the first openly gay male federal judge, President Barack Obama has announced another nomination that would add diversity to our courts.

    Litigator and former assistant U.S. attorney Michael Walter Fitzgerald has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, becoming Obama’s fourth openly gay nominee. The others are Alison Nathan, a nominee to the Southern District of New York, and Edward Dumont, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

    These nominations have contributed to the record diversity of Obama’s nominees, Politico reports.

    Despite a backlog in confirming Obama’s judicial nominations, the president has surpassed his predecessors in putting forth diverse candidates to the federal bench. Obama has nominated more female, African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American and openly gay candidates as federal judges than Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush. That includes two female Supreme Court justices, one of whom is the high court’s only Hispanic justice. The numbers are particularly striking for Asian-American nominees. Obama has nominated half of the Asian-American federal judges currently on the bench.

    Of course, many of those nominees haven’t had the success of Oetken in getting through the confirmation process.

  • June 21, 2011

    The Senate today confirmed Perkins Coie partner Michael H. Simon to the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, by a vote of 64 to 35.

    “The divided outcome on a nominee who was praised as a legal authority and highly qualified, reflected the slow and frustrating pace as well as the sharp partisan nature of nearly all confirmations,” reports The Oregonian.

    Simon (pictured) was originally nominated by President Obama almost a year ago in July 2010, and had been approved by the Judiciary Committee twice, but the Senate failed to hold a vote on his nomination, despite the declaration of a judicial emergency in Oregon.

    As Congress’s summer recess approaches, there are still 88 vacancies on the federal courts subject to Senate confirmation, 35 of which have been deemed judicial emergencies.

    “This is a very intentional well-designed program to keep as many seats open so that a future Republican president will put judges on it,” said Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron on “The Rachel Maddow Show” yesterday. She continued:

  • May 27, 2011

    Following the successful filibuster of UC Berkeley law school professor Goodwin Liu’s nomination to the federal appeals court bench, Scott Lemieux examines Republican senators’ tactics of delay and obstruction, which are conveniently keeping judicial seats open.

    Lemieux, assistant professor of political science at The College of Saint Rose, in an article for The American Prospect, says the process of confirming judicial nominations has “ground to a halt.” Although Lemieux says the president initially had not made enough judicial appointments, he calls the obstruction of the president’s nominees led by Republicans “remarkable.”

    He continues:

    During the first two years of Obama's term, only 58 percent of his nominees were confirmed. Contrast this with the rate of his predecessors: 74 percent for George W. Bush and 89 percent for Bill Clinton. And they both worked with smaller or nonexistent Senate majorities. The Republican minority has allowed more nominations to proceed to a vote since the 2010 midterms, but overall, Congress has confirmed 30 fewer judges than it did at this point in Bush's first term.

    Even more important, the behavior of Senate Republicans suggests that they see maintaining a high vacancy rate under a Democratic president as a plus, not a problem to be fixed. The filibuster of Liu, at least, targeted a specific judge whom Republicans viewed (rightly or wrongly) as ideologically objectionable. The power to advise and consent to judicial nominations does not require the Senate to be a rubber stamp. Much more disturbing is the fact that Republicans frequently engage in a campaign of systematic delay and obstruction. While Democrats under Bush used the filibuster more often, they generally permitted most nominees they considered acceptable to move forward: The average time of confirmation for district and circuit court nominees under Bush was 25 days. Under Obama, the time has increased to 120 days. The advise-and-consent function was designed to improve appointments made, not facilitate obstruction for the sake of obstruction.

    In a piece for Slate, Micah Schwartzman, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, says President Obama needs to follow of a strategy used by his predecessors of nominating younger candidates for the federal bench.

    Schwartzman maintains:

    Republicans long ago recognized the fact that younger judges can be intellectual path-breakers and aggressive leaders, which is why they tap them by the handful. If the president is going to nominate younger judges—who are certain to be targeted for filibusters—it makes sense to nominate more of them at the same time. As the Senate Republicans just demonstrated last week, it is not all that difficult to filibuster a single, relatively inexperienced and controversial candidate. But it is much more difficult to filibuster a dozen of them.

    For more news and updates on the rising vacancies on the federal bench, visit

  • May 19, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Peddling rightwing attacks on federal appeals court nominee Goodwin Liu, Republican senators today blocked the noted constitutional law professor’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The cloture motion, which needs 60 votes to pass, failed on a 52 to 43 vote, thereby preventing an up-or-down vote on the nomination. (Roll Call Vote is available here.)

    ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson scored Republicans for their delaying tactics, saying “Those senators who voted against cloture are ushering in an era of unprecedented obstructionism, and threaten to bring our system of justice to a grinding halt.”

    ACS Board Chair Geoffrey R. Stone also weighed in, saying “Since President Obama took office, some Republican senators have made an art of delaying votes on qualified nominees who have broad bipartisan support, thus threatening the capacity and integrity of our system of justice.” 

    Their entire comments are available here.

    A stream of Republicans took to the Senate floor this afternoon, and proceeded to tar Liu as an ideologue with an extreme judicial philosophy unfit for an appointment to the federal bench. Other Republicans said Liu did not have the adequate discretion to serve as a life-tenured judge, citing some of Liu’s statements in opposition to Samuel Alito’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Democrats, such as Sen. Dick Durbin, blasted Republicans’ obstructionism, saying it was intended to keep as many federal court seats open in hopes that a Republican captures the White House in 2012.

    Sen. Christopher Coons of Delaware said in support of allowing a vote on the nomination:

    The notion that, somehow, Professor Liu is an ideologue on these issues is belied by his actual record. As a scholar, Professor Liu has supported market-based reforms to promote schoolhouse diversity, reforms that are often labeled conservative.

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, in his floor statement, noted that “for the sixth time since President Obama took office 28 months ago we have had to seek cloture to overcome a Republican filibuster of one President Obama’s judicial nominations. Regrettably, the Republican filibuster of Professor Liu’s nomination continues the pattern they set as soon as President Obama took office. This is a far cry from when Republican Senators were insisting just a few years ago that such filibusters of judicial nominees were unconstitutional.”

    Texas Sen. John Cornyn blamed Democrats for the filibuster of Liu’s nomination, and TPM reports on Cornyn’s wobbly reasoning here.

    Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, who filed the motion to force Republicans to explain their pattern of obstructing the president’s judicial selections, noted a string of statements from Republican senators espousing the need for up-or-down votes on judicial nominations, albeit many of those comments came when the White House was controlled by a Republican.

    Sen. Barbara Boxer, a staunch supporter of Liu, blasted Republicans’ tactics calling the situation “an outrage.”

    It is a sad day for our country,” Boxer continued, “when we reject a brilliant young scholar who would have been the only Asian-American serving on the Ninth Circuit, which is home to more than 40 percent of our nation’s Asian American population.”

    To get the latest on the efforts to fill federal court vacancies, visit