President Obama's federal appeals court nominee Goodwin Liu appeared before a Senate panel today and tried to move forward his embattled nomination to the 9th Circuit court. Liu, a Berkley law professor, apologized for failing to fully disclose his writings and public speeches to Senators and pledged to uphold the values of the Constitution if confirmed.
"I'm sorry that I missed things the first time," Liu said today of his incomplete responses to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. "I've lived most of my professional life in public and my record is an open book. I have absolutely no intention – no ability – to conceal things I have said, written or done."
Liu's confirmation process has been widely viewed as a preview of the ideological fight expected with Obama's nomination of a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Liu, who has never served as a judge, also became a flashpoint on Capitol Hill for his failure to provide some materials about his record.
"At best, this nominee's extraordinary disregard for the Committee's constitutional role demonstrates incompetence; at worse, it creates the impression that he knowingly attempted to hide his most controversial work from the Committee," wrote Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the ranking GOP member, in a letter last week to committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Yesterday, Leahy refused Sessions' third request for a delay in the one-day confirmation hearing, allowing Liu's nomination to proceed. But Republicans continued to press the nominee today.
"If a lawyer came into my courtroom and failed to respond completely and accurately – and had to be called to task four different times – that lawyer would be found in contempt, of court, or worse," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Wrangling over Liu also reflected debate over the expediency with which confirmation of Obama's federal judicial nominees has been pursued. Republicans today argued that the process was moving too quickly, not allowing them enough time to review Liu's credentials. Democrats praised the process, saying it has moved more swiftly than it did under President George W. Bush.
For at least one participant, however, the process has not moved quickly enough. In a lighter moment before Liu took questions, he told senators that his daughter Violet asked just three days after his nomination: "Daddy, are you a judge yet?"
Although Liu has never argued a Supreme Court case, he has written extensively on constitutional law and civil rights. His scholarly work -- touching on topics like affirmative action, the death penalty, welfare rights and same-sex marriage -- provides his critics with an unusually long paper trail. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2000 and later told the Los Angeles Times that Bush v. Gore, the decision that settled the 2000 presidential election, was "utterly lacking in legal principle."
Sessions and other Republicans on the committee are also concerned about Liu's judicial philosophy outlined in a book he co-authored, "Keeping Faith with the Constitution." In the book, Liu writes that the Constitution should be interpreted by adapting its broad principles to the conditions faced by successive generations -- a view which doesn't sit well with conservatives.
"If you truly respect the Constitution, you will enforce it as written whether you like it or not," said Sessions.