Goodwin Liu, the UC Berkeley law professor whose nomination to a federal appeals court was scuttled by U.S. Senate Republicans, was nominated Tuesday to the California Supreme Court by Gov. Jerry Brown.
If confirmed, Liu would join Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Ming Chin and Joyce Kennard to form an unprecedented majority of Asian-Americans on the court.
Liu in May withdrew his nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a Republican filibuster prevented senators from voting on his confirmation.
"Professor Liu is an extraordinary man and a distinguished legal scholar and teacher," Brown said in his news release Tuesday. "He is a nationally recognized expert on constitutional law and has experience in private practice, government service and in the academic community. I know that he will be an outstanding addition to our state Supreme Court."
UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law Dean Christopher Edley called the nomination "absolutely brilliant."
"Anyone who watched Professor Liu testify during the rigorous Senate hearings on Capitol Hill knows that he's an exemplary scholar with enormous constitutional knowledge and intellectual rigor," Edley said, praising Liu's "decency, moderation, and admirable judicial temperament."
Liu will replace Associate Justice Carlos Moreno, who retired in February and was the court's only Latino member. Some voiced concern Tuesday that Brown didn't name another Latino to succeed Moreno, as several groups urged this year.
Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, the California Latino Legislative Caucus chairman, issued a statement Tuesday congratulating Liu and praising his "exceptional" credentials.
"Unfortunately, with this appointment Gov. Brown has missed an opportunity to designate a candidate to the Supreme Court who would better reflect the diversity of California," he said, noting the caucus has worked with Brown's office on recommending highly qualified Latino candidates for state posts, and will continue to do so.
Maribel Medina -- who heads the judicial committee of La Raza Lawyers of California, the state's Chicano-Latino bar association -- said she has worked with Liu and knows he's "an incredible scholar" with "a great commitment to civil rights."
"But we are also very disappointed that our highest court will not reflect the diversity of this state. If you couple this action with the massive budget cuts the courts are suffering, it really jeopardizes the integrity of our judicial system," she said. "This I think sends a very negative message to the people of California."
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the Los Angeles-based National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, was blunter in his disappointment.
"That there would be nobody on the Supreme Court with the life experience of nearly four out of 10 Californians is really inexcusable," he said Tuesday. "I have no idea what the governor is thinking."
But Brown's office issued a statement from Moreno praising Liu as "a brilliant scholar and dedicated teacher" who is "admired for his measured, balanced and rational judgment, and for his outstanding reputation." Moreno said Brown "is to be commended for this visionary and truly meritorious appointment."
Pundits had wondered when Brown, who has spent much of this year embroiled in budget woes, would nominate Moreno's replacement; many see a governor's nomination of justices as a way of cementing a legacy lasting far beyond his term in office. That could be particularly sensitive for Brown, who in 1977 named Rose Bird as the state Supreme Court's first female justice and chief justice. Bird in 1986 became the first justice in California's history not to be reconfirmed by voters, ousted from the bench due to her perceived liberal ideology, particularly her opposition to the death penalty.
Brown has forwarded Liu's name to the State Bar's Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation. After that panel's review, the Commission on Judicial Appointments -- which includes Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, the state Court of Appeal's senior presiding justice -- will hold one or more public hearings to review Liu's nomination before deciding whether to confirm him.
Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political science professor, predicted a "slam dunk" there: "If it's not 3-0, I'll be shocked."
Gerston noted Liu is well respected in legal circles, where he is generally seen to have been denied a federal appeals court seat for purely partisan, political purposes. "However whacked-out the politics are in California, we almost look good these days compared to what's going on inside the Congress."
Dan Schnur, a longtime Republican political strategist who now directs the University of Southern California's Unruh Institute of Politics, said nominating Liu is "a great way for Brown to play to his base without upsetting the center."
"By 2014, most voters are going to judge Liu less by what he has said and done in the past than by what he says and does on the court," Schnur said. "Reasonable people can disagree over whether he will be an effective justice or not, but unless he starts overturning death penalties, it's a pretty safe pick from a political standpoint."
California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, of Lafayette, issued a statement panning the pick. "Although I didn't expect any better from Jerry Brown, the appointment sends yet another signal that California is not a safe place for employers or jobs. Activist judges spread uncertainty in the legal system and employment environment, and uncertainty discourages employers from investing in California's future. All in all, it was a predictable but bad pick."
Liu, who is also an associate dean at the law school, hasn't granted interviews since President Barack Obama nominated him to the federal appeals court in February 2010. In Brown's news release Tuesday, Liu said he's "deeply honored" by this new nomination and looks forward "to the opportunity to serve the people of California on our state's highest court."
Republican senators had criticized Liu's lack of experience in practicing law, as his background is mostly academic, and his liberal credentials given his work as a former member of the boards of the American Constitution Society, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and Chinese for Affirmative Action. He also served on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition's education policy and agency review teams.
In the 2009 book he co-authored, "Keeping Faith With the Constitution," he wrote that judges should interpret the Constitution not according to "how its general principles would have been applied in 1789 or 1868, but rather how those principles should be applied today in order to preserve their power and meaning in light of the concerns, conditions, and evolving norms of our society."
Before joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 2003, Liu was an appellate litigator in the Washington, D.C., office of Los Angeles-based O'Melveny & Myers; earlier, he clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and was special assistant to the deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.
Liu, 40, holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Stanford University; a master's degree from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar; and a law degree from Yale Law School, where he was a member of the Yale Law Journal. He and his wife, Ann O'Leary, have a daughter and a son.
Experience: Nominated by President Barack Obama to 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2010 but nomination withdrawn in May 2011; UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law professor since 2003 and associate dean since 2008; appellate litigator, O'Melveny & Myers of Washington, D.C., 2001-03; clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2000-01; special assistant to the deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Education, 1999-2000; clerked for D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Tatel, 1998-99.
Education: Yale Law School, J.D., 1998; Oxford University (Rhodes scholarship), M.A., philosophy and physiology, 2002 (course work and exams completed in 1993); Stanford University, B.S. with distinction, biological sciences, 1991.
Family: His wife, Ann O'Leary, is executive director of the Berkeley Center on Health, Economic and Family Security; daughter Violet; son Emmett.