July 27, 2011
By Adam Bink
About a month ago, I wrote about the retirement of California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, and the longstanding vacancy to fill that position, and how it might affect the Prop 8 case.
Late yesterday, Gov. Brown finally nominated someone to fill the position — and it’s, in the opinion of many, one of the best candidates possible.
Gov. Jerry Brown nominated UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu to the California Supreme Court Tuesday, giving the state high court a fourth Asian justice and a collegial liberal who is likely to be strongly supportive of civil rights.
Liu was President Obama’s pick for a seat on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but he failed to garner enough Republican support. Liu, 40, has never been a judge, but his colleagues at Berkeley, including conservatives, strongly endorsed him for the position.
Liu, a graduate of Yale Law School, is the son of Taiwanese immigrants. He was born in Georgia, grew up in Sacramento and has a history of public service.
Liu was a controversial pick for Obama, who nominated him twice. Senate Republicans criticized Liu’s selection, saying that he was too left-leaning. Liu marked the first judicial pick to be blocked outright on the Senate floor since George W. Bush’s first term.
[Updated at 9 a.m.: Liu is considered an expert on constitutional law, education policy, civil rights and the Supreme Court.
Before joining the Berkeley Law faculty in 2003, Liu was an appellate litigator at O'Melveny & Myers in Washington. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and for Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He also served as special assistant to the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and as senior program officer for higher education at the Corporation for National Service (AmeriCorps).]
The appointment would fill the void left by the unexpected retirement of Justice Carlos R. Moreno, who gave Brown an early opportunity to put his stamp on the state’s highest court.
Moreno, 62, was the only Latino and Democrat on the court. When he announced his retirement he said Brown’s election cemented his decision to leave for work as either a private judge or for a private law firm.
Moreno was appointed to the top court by former Gov. Gray Davis in 2001.
Brown’s selection of Moreno’s successor had been closely watched. In 1977, he infuriated conservatives by naming Rose Bird, a friend and member of his Cabinet, as chief justice. Bird had never been a judge, and she voted to overturn every death sentence she reviewed. In 1986, voters rejected her in a retention election, defeating two other Brown appointees on the state high court at the same time.
Liu was one of 17 law professors who urged the California Supreme Court to end the ban on same-sex marriage in 2007 (In re Marriage Cases). He was one of President Obama’s picks for the bench, but never got a vote on the Senate floor. His nomination was eventually withdrawn. To land on his feet at the California Supreme Court is great news.