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.
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.
During his campaign last year Brown said he would make judicial appointments differently this time around. He said he was trying to make a point with his early judicial selections. Bird was the first woman to serve on the state’s highest court. It is now headed by a Filipina American, and four of its seven jurists are women.
Other candidates who were said to be in the running included Thomas A. Saenz, a nationally known Latino civil rights lawyer who led the fight against Proposition 187, the 1994 measure that would have barred illegal immigrants from public services. Other Latinos under consideration included Southwestern Law School professor Christopher David Ruiz Cameron, who has labor backing; Stanford Law School professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar; and state Court of Appeal Justice Maria P. Rivera.
Non-Latino judges whose names had been mentioned during the vetting include Los Angeles district Court of Appeal Justice Dennis M. Perluss, a highly regarded appointee of Davis, and San Francisco district Court of Appeal Justice Martin J. Jenkins, a former prosecutor and an African American who is well liked by members of the state high court.