Senate Republicans fiercely criticized President Barack Obama's choice for a seat on a San Francisco-based federal appellate court Friday, in an intensifying test of his ability to install an unabashed liberal.
Nominee Goodwin Liu tried to deflect the criticism by assuring lawmakers that his personal views would "never have a role" in his opinions if confirmed to a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Republicans threw back at Liu his sharp criticism of two Supreme Court justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito, when they were nominees. GOP senators told Liu he had no judicial experience, and said they worried he would give the government sweeping powers over Americans' lives.
At a divisive confirmation hearing, Democrats countered that Republicans were applying a double-standard, since they have voted for some GOP nominees who were conservative activists who assured senators they would not bring their personal views to the bench.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the committee, said Republican opposition to Liu was "instantaneous and has continued. They are being unfair."
Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. said they were incensed at Liu's remarks in opposition to Alito's nomination.
Liu, a University of California, Berkeley, law professor, said Alito's vision was an America "where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy ... where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance ... where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep ... where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man, absent ... analysis showing discrimination."
Kyl called those comments "vicious and emotionally and racially charged."
Liu said he used "unnecessarily colorful language" and added, "I have the highest regard for Justice Alito's career." He said those remarks followed a 14-page analysis of Alito's rulings. He said Roberts "has an extraordinarily distinguished record."
Leahy fumed that Kyl's comments were "outrageous."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, noting that Liu omitted material from a committee questionnaire, asked, "Can you assure us this was not an act of contempt?"
Liu said it was not, and noted he previously apologized for inadvertently omitting information.
Both parties in the past have tried — and sometimes did — block court nominees of the other party. Obama is slowly remaking federal appeals and lower district courts, following eight years of conservative judges picked by former President George W. Bush.
He now will have a second Supreme Court pick to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Depending on Obama's pick, the Liu nomination could serve as a template for a partisan fight likely to follow over the high court nominee.
At the hearing, the barrage of Republican attacks prompted Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. to ask Liu, 39, how he was holding up.
Liu said he was fine. Feinstein said, "You've got amazing cool."
Sessions, contrasting Liu to Roberts and Alito — both appellate judges before their elevation — asked, "Have you argued any case before the Supreme Court or the court of appeals?"
Liu said he never argued before the Supreme Court and argued once before a federal appeals court.
The professor and associate dean at the University of California, Berkeley, has written extensively about his liberal views on welfare and applying the Constitution to changing needs of society.
Liu said he knows that appellate judges cannot make "new determinations as if they were writing on a blank slate," and added his views usually were directed at policymakers, not judges.
He told Sessions, "I would have no difficulty or objection of any sort to enforcing the law as written in enforcing the death penalty."
Liu is nominated for the 9th Circuit, which hears appeals from lower courts in California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Hawaii and Montana.
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