Brown nominates Goodwin Liu to California high court

University of California at Berkley Law Professor Goodwin Liu swears an oath of truth before testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit April 16, 2010 in Washington, DC.
University of California at Berkley Law Professor Goodwin Liu swears an oath of truth before testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit April 16, 2010 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Gov. Jerry Brown has nominated UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu to the California state Supreme Court. This follows a GOP filibuster of his confirmation to a federal appeals court.

Brown called Liu “a distinguished legal scholar” who would be an “outstanding addition” to the state Supreme Court.

President Barack Obama thought he’d be a good addition to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but U.S. Senate Republicans stalled his nomination. They accused Liu of being an "ideologue," saying he espoused progressive ideas in legal periodicals. Liu withdrew after his nomination was blocked.

While in Washington, Liu tried to reassure the Senate Judiciary Committee that he’d regard the law differently on the bench than in the classroom.

"As scholars," he said, "we are paid in a sense to question the boundaries of the law, to raise new theories, to be provocative in ways that it’s simply not the role of the judge to be. The role of the judge is to faithfully follow the law as it is written and as it is given by the Supreme Court."

Although Liu has never served as a judge, Brown said that lack of experience will add to the diversity of the California Supreme Court, where the six sitting justices all served on lower courts before their appointments.

"This is just a marvelous appointment," said Santa Clara Univesity law professor Gerald Uelman. "Putting someone on the court with an academic background and a sterling reputation as a scholar will, I think, add a very valuable dimension to the court's deliberations."

Uelman said Liu is "brilliant" and "a very able writer. I think that's a dimension that's missing."

Uelman said he doubts Liu's appointment would disturb the balance of the court, which Uelman said is a moderate court. He said the court currently has three justices on the conservative side and Liu would make for three on the liberal side, "and the chief justice right in the middle. And when the court splits, I think that the chief justice's vote will be determinative."

Liu doesn't need legislative approval in California. To advance on the state level, Liu’s nomination proceeds to a California Bar commission for review, California's Commission on Judicial Appointments. Voters then have the final say. If he’s confirmed, Liu would replace Associate Justice Carlos Moreno, who stepped down from the state Supreme Court earlier this year to go into private practice.

Southern California also would be without representation if Liu is confirmed, because the entire court will be comprised of residents of the Central Valley and Northern California, said Victor Acevedo, president of the Mexican-American Bar Association.

Liu is the son of Taiwanese immigrants and would become the fourth serving justice of Asian descent if confirmed for the state Supreme Court.

He was born in Georgia, grew up in Sacramento and attended public school until college, when he went to Stanford University. In 1998, he graduated from Yale Law School.

Liu clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and worked as an appellate litigator in Washington before joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 2003. He's been on the UC Berkeley faculty for over 10 years, teaching mainly in the area of constitutional law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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