Goodwin Liu’s CA Supreme Court Nod Could Mean Big Win For Civil Rights

But that doesn't mean the law professor's appointment sits well with everyone. Even some progressives.

By Bryan Gerhart Jul 28, 2011

California Governor Jerry Brown nominated Goodwin Liu to the state Supreme Court Tuesday, a decision that could mean big things for civil rights. Liu will become the high court’s only Democrat and fourth sitting Asian American justice, which would give the Court an Asian American majority.

The UC Berkeley School of Law professor made a national name for himself earlier this year when, more than a year after he was nominated by President Obama, Senate Republicans blocked his appointment to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. They staged a filibuster blocking a final vote of confirmation, despite a a bipartisan agreement six years earlier to refrain from using filibusters against judicial nominees unless it was an extraordinary case. This extraordinary case? The GOP said he was too liberal, citing what they called his "scathing" 2006 testimony against the appointment of now Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito as proof. 

In the testimony, Liu took issue with the judge’s record, which he said "envision[ed] an American where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse." When Liu’s nomination was blocked this May, one Republican Senator complained that law professor’s own record was the one in need of review because it demonstrated his clear belief that "the Constitution is a fluid, evolving document with no fixed meaning." Yeah, because nothing has changed in the 224 years since a group of rich, white males decided it would work.

Goodwin Liu, who is considered an expert on constitutional law, education policy and civil rights, will fill the vacancy left by Justice Carlos R. Moreno, whose decision to retire came when Jerry Brown was elected last November. Moreno was the only Latino on California’s Supreme Court, and Brown was expected to choose another Latino or black justice to replace him

While Liu’s appointment is expected to be a major gain for civil rights, it isn’t just the Right who is displeased the Governor’s decision. "We are almost the majority of the people of the state of California, and for the governor to say their isn’t one Latino who is qualified to serve on the court is extremely troubling," said Victor Acevedo, president of the Mexican-American Bar Association, to the Los Angeles Times.

While he’s never served as a judge, Liu’s Berkeley colleagues, including conservatives strongly endorsed him during the 9th District debacle. His extensive writing includes support for affirmative action, abortion rights and same-sex marriage, but he’s not simply preaching to the Left-leaning choir. He’s supported government-funded vouchers for private schools and charter schools. In 2005, he helped found the California College Preparatory Academy in West Oakland, which positions him on the opposite side of teachers unions. He’s it made clear, however, that his support is contingent on these schools promoting racial diversity.

Last year, Colorlines picked Liu to serve on our Fantasy Supreme Court. Sheila Foster, Associate Dean of Fordham Law School explained why, saying "You need someone on the court with his intellectual heft, and Liu is adept at making his case."