Jerry Brown defends high court nominee's lack of judicial experience
Gov. Jerry Brown said he was not bothered by his California Supreme Court nominee’s lack of judicial experience or that conservative Republicans painted him as a liberal ideologue in rejecting him for a seat on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Brown on Tuesday nominated UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu, 40, to the state’s highest court, which would give the seven-member panel it’s fourth Asian. He is the son of Taiwanese immigrants.
Liu, a graduate of Yale Law School, is considered an expert on constitutional law, education policy, civil rights and the Supreme Court.
"There’s no doubt in my mind that he has the background, the intellect and the vision to really help our California Supreme Court be again one of the great courts in the country," Brown said at a news conference in San Francisco.
Asked whether Liu's lack of judicial experience gave him pause, Brown replied with an emphatic no.
"Nor did it give Gov. [Culbert] Olson pause when he appointed Roger Traynor as a professor from Boalt Hall, University of California back in the '40s,” Brown said. “He became our most distinguished justice."
Liu "is an unusual individual, I believe a great intellect, a very solid personality and character,” Brown said. “There is not a requirement that people come from the court of appeals, the superior court or anything else. It’s good among several people, to have a diversity, different views, different backgrounds. He brings that."
When asked whether there were African American or Latino candidates as qualified as Liu, Brown said that "there were several people I spoke to. In fact, one particularly qualified person was not a member of the state bar though extremely accomplished." Brown would not identify that candidate but said that the person "certainly was a professor, not a judge."
Brown said that a majority-Asian court doesn't say anything in particular about the state. "We’re all Americans," he said. "We’re all Californians. The accidents of birth though they indicate biography and life experience, it’s just part of a larger mosaic."
He said that Liu did not apply for the position, but rather that Brown had been in contact with Liu before he took himself out of contention for the federal judgeship.
Liu was President Obama's pick for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court, but he failed to muster enough Republican support. 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.
"I noticed he was having trouble getting confirmed in the Congress," Brown told reporters. "Because of that process his strengths and his biography came to my attention. Based on that, I picked up the telephone and said. 'I’d like to talk to you.' "
Asked about Republicans' portrayal of Liu as a liberal ideologue, Brown said, "I think he’s a very sound thinker, a very broadly educated person, a very thoughtful person. [Kenneth] Starr has supported him as well as a number of conservatives .... That’s just a canard. The dysfunctionality in Washington and the blockage at all costs by the more extreme Republicans I don’t think that should be given a lot of intellectual weight."
When asked if Liu supported and would enforce the death penalty, Brown said that he didn't ask him his views on that or on gay marriage.
"I don’t pepper judicial applicants with questions like that. I don’t think Roger Traynor was asked that, or Matthew Tobriner or others. He’s going to follow the law. In fact, he was quoted as saying he’ll have no difficulty enforcing the law.”
Brown said he had no standard criteria for picking justices.
"I don’t take litmus tests,” he said. “This is a man who knows the law, is extremely well educated. He’s fair. That’s what I want in a judge.”
-- Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco
Photo: California Gov. Jerry Brown. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times