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California Supreme Court nominee Goodwin Liu sparks criticism

July 26, 2011 | 10:00 am

Goodwin Liu

Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to pass over several Latino candidates and a veteran African American appeals court justice in his nomination to the California Supreme Court is likely to draw criticism from some groups.

Brown nominated UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu, 40, to the state’s high court Tuesday, which would give the court an Asian majority and a collegial liberal who is likely to be strongly supportive of civil rights.

The governor had widely been expected to name a Latino. The state high court has no Latino or African American justices.

The new appointment would fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Carlos R. Moreno, 62, the only Latino and only Democrat on the court. Moreno was appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis in 2001.

Some Latino bar leaders expressed anger and disappointment at Liu’s selection.

“It should have been a Latino and somebody who was native to Southern California,” said Victor Acevedo, president of the Mexican-American Bar Assn.

“We are almost the majority of the people of the state of California, and for the governor to say there isn’t one Latino who is qualified to serve on the court is extremely troubling,” he said. “That to me is like the governor turning a cold shoulder to the Latino community in Southern California.”

The court has no justices who currently reside in Southern California since the retirements of Moreno and Chief Justice Ronald M. George.

“If we cannot trust that the governor is going to give voice to the largest minority in the state then it seems we are going to have to look at other candidates who are going to be sensitive to our issues,” Acevedo said.

The governor had been considering several Latino candidates, and one of Brown's key advisors had urged him to select Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. But Saenz may have been viewed as too liberal.

Acevedo said Liu was just as liberal "if not more" than Saenz.

Liu's name did not publicly arise during the search process. Brown and his wife, Anne Gust, met with several candidates recently in Los Angeles, some of them over dinner. Brown was said to have read all their rulings and to have peppered them with questions, and Gust had a strong say in the appointment.

Those who know Lui's views and those of the other candidates said Lui would be a strong liberal voice on the court, as or more liberal than any of the other persons Brown was considering for the job. Lui, affable and unassuming, also is expected to work well with the conservative members of the court.

Liu was President Obama's pick for a seat on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but he failed to muster enough Republican support. Liu, 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.


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Photo: Goodwin Liu testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in April 2010 during his confirmation hearings to join the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Liu's nomination was blocked by Republicans. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images