WASHINGTON — Seeking to assure skeptical Republicans, appeals court nominee Goodwin Liu told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday that he could be an impartial judge despite his liberal and sometimes controversial writing as a scholar.
Liu, President Barack Obama's choice for a seat on the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, told the panel that personal beliefs "never have a role" in how judges should rule from the bench.
"There really is no room in cases that come up for judges to invent new theories or create new doctrine," Liu said. "They are applying the law."
With his parents, his wife and his 4-week-old son in the audience, Liu, 39, told the panel that he often tried to write provocatively as a scholar but that he would not do so if confirmed as judge. And he urged senators to read all of his many writings.
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"My record is an open book," said Liu.
While the committee took no votes, Republicans kept Liu in the hot seat, accusing him of working too hard to advocate liberal causes: national health care, affirmative action, gay marriage and slavery reparations, among others.
And they were clearly irked that he had opposed the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the committee, said he feared that Liu would engage in "intellectual judicial activism" and abuse the Constitution. And he questioned Liu's experience.
"He's never tried a case, never argued a case on appeal," Sessions said, adding that the Senate can only judge him on his academic record.
Liu, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, told the panel that he couldn't speak English until he went to kindergarten, but he became the co-valedictorian of his Sacramento, Calif., high school.
A Rhodes scholar who's now the associate dean of Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, Liu told the senators that he grew up with the late Rep. Bob Matsui of Sacramento as his mentor. Matsui's wife, Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui, attended the hearing in a show of support.
Democrats praised Liu, with Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania urging a quick vote and an end to the judicial logjam in Washington.
"We really need the best and the brightest in these positions," said Specter.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said there was no doubt that Liu was an American success story, but he questioned whether he had the proper credentials to be a judge. And he said it's not enough just to be brilliant.
"I guess the question I have is, is this the right job for you?" Cornyn told Liu.
Liu's nomination has aroused intense opposition, partly because many conservatives regard him as a possible Obama Supreme Court nominee in future years.
That point was not lost on senators.
"Welcome to the Judiciary Committee and the Supreme Court nomination process," Delaware Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman told Liu.
Although he acknowledged that he didn't have a judicial resume, Liu said he hopes "the record shows that I'm a rigorous, disciplined person who makes comments in a nuanced way." He urged committee members to look at his teaching methods to demonstrate that he is a "good listener ... who doesn't seek to impose my views on others."
(Allison Stice of the Washington Bureau contributed.)
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