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NEWS ANALYSIS: California Supreme Court nominee Goodwin Liu is friend of gays and liberal causes

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday nominated law professor Goodwin Liu to the California Supreme Court, a move applauded by advocates of LGBT rights and liberal causes.

Liu, 40, who teaches at the University of California Berkeley, recently withdrew as President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after stiff opposition from Republicans concerned about his history of supporting issues such as same-sex marriage and affirmative action.

"Professor Liu is an extraordinary man and a distinguished legal scholar and teacher," Brown said in a statement. "He is a nationally-recognized expert on constitutional law and has experience in private practice, government service and in the academic community. I know that he will be an outstanding addition to our state Supreme Court."

If confirmed by California’s Commission on Judicial Appointments, consisting of Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauyue, Justice Joan Dempsey Klein and Attorney General Kamala Harris, Liu would replace Justice Carlos Moreno. Moreno is the only Democrat on the high court and its only Latino, and Latino groups expressed disappointment with Brown that he didn’t nominate another Latino. Other groups noted that Liu would give the high court an Asian majority without representation from African-American and Latino communities.

If confirmed, Liu would take office immediately but would face voters in November 2014 to fill the balance of Moreno's 12-year term, which ends in 2022.

Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle that he expects Liu to join the Supreme Court in time for its September calendar, which includes an important case involving same-sex marriage. The justices will consider whether sponsors of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned gay and lesbian marriages in California, have legal standing to defend it in federal court. That is a key question asked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has been asked to overturn Judge Vaughn Walker’s historic ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Liu is the son of immigrants from Taiwan. He was born in Georgia, and the family moved to Sacramento when he was 7. He was co-valedictorian for the Class of 1987 at Rio Americano High School. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from Stanford University; obtained a master’s of philosophy and physiology at Oxford University in England, which he attended on a Rhodes scholarship; and a juris doctor degree from Yale Law School.

Among his many accomplishments is clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, serving as assistant to the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and working as a senior program officer for higher education for AmeriCorps.

Liu is married to Ann O’Leary and they have two children, Violet O’Leary-Liu and Emmett O’Leary-Liu.

Obama nomined Liu to the Ninth Circuit on Feb. 24, 2010. The nomination was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate and expired upon the adjournment of the 111th Congress. Obama re-nominated him when the 112th Congress was seated, but Liu’s nomination and so many made by Obama have been stalled by Republicans hoping that the president will not be re-elected in 2012 and that a GOP president would instead nominate conservative judges.

On May 25, 2011, Liu withdrew his nomination to the Ninth Circuit when it became clear that he had no chance at approval until after the 2012 elections.

One of the reasons that Republicans are against Liu is that he testified in opposition of President George W. Bush’s nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. Liu contended that both nominees were too far to the right and out of the mainstream.

Liu’s writings reflect that he supports same-sex marriage, abortion rights and affirmative action. He also is an opponent of waterboarding and the death penalty. These left-leaning positions endear him to Democrats and no doubt appeal to Gov. Brown.

Brown said that he did not question Liu about hot-button issues but focused on how Liu would approach the law as it applied to Californians. He called Liu a “great intellect” and said he was impressed by the law professor.

The nomination of Liu has already gotten a thumbs-up from the media. Los Angeles Times endorsed the nomination in an editorial published today:

The federal judiciary's loss is California's gain. Liu's brilliance fully compensates for his lack of judicial experience. He is an expert on constitutional law and education policy who is described by colleagues and opponents as possessing the even temperament desirable in a judge. …

Liu is undoubtedly at the liberal end of the legal spectrum. But his philosophy of constitutional interpretation will strike most Californians as reasonable. A book he coauthored with two colleagues said: "The question that properly guides interpretation is not how the Constitution would have been applied at the Founding, but rather how it should be applied today in order to sustain its vitality in light of the changing needs, conditions, and understandings of our society."

The San Jose Mercury News also endorsed the Liu nomination.

Liu's expertise on constitutional law is nationally recognized. The former Rhodes scholar is a great choice by Brown to succeed Justice Carlos Moreno on the California Supreme Court.