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Appeals court nominee Liu causes battle in Senate

By Ben Pershing
Thursday, April 8, 2010; A19

A battle is intensifying in the Senate over the appeals court nomination of Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley whom some Democrats consider a potential nominee one day to the Supreme Court.

Democrats vowed Wednesday to press ahead with plans for an April 16 Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. A day earlier, the GOP demanded a delay and suggested that Liu's nomination might be in jeopardy because he had not provided enough information to the panel.

Activists on both the left and right view Liu's nomination as a practice run for the next Supreme Court vacancy, which could come as soon as this year if Justice John Paul Stevens retires.

On Tuesday, Liu sent 117 items to the committee, a "supplement" to an earlier questionnaire he filled out about his record, including articles he wrote and events in which he participated, but did not include in his original submission.

The committee's seven Republicans -- led by ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.) -- responded with a scathing letter to panel Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).

"At best, this nominee's extraordinary disregard for the Committee's constitutional role demonstrates incompetence; at worst, it creates the impression that he knowingly attempted to hide his most controversial work from the Committee," they wrote. "Professor Liu's unwillingness to take seriously his obligation to complete these basic forms is potentially disqualifying and has placed his nomination in jeopardy."

The Republicans added that they needed more time to review the new information Liu submitted.

On Wednesday, Leahy struck back, telling Sessions in a letter that Democrats had already postponed Liu's hearing once at the GOP's request and that there was no reason for additional delay.

"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," he wrote. "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."

The Senate has confirmed far fewer judges so far in the Obama administration than it had at the same point during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Democrats complain that the GOP is largely responsible for that record, though there are a variety of possible reasons for the slow pace.

Some Democrats suspect that Republicans oppose Liu's nomination because he might be difficult to defeat if nominated to the Supreme Court. Conservatives counter that they have real objections to the professor's legal views.

Liu has been an opponent of the "originalist" view of the Constitution advocated by conservative scholars, arguing instead for a "progressive view" of the law that accounts for many factors beyond the original intent of the framers. He also earned the ire of the right by opposing the Supreme Court nominations of Samuel A. Alito Jr. and John G. Roberts Jr.

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