Filibuster of Goodwin Liu Highlights Government's Diversity Problem

May 20, 2011

Goodwin Liu was on track to be the first Asian American judge on the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals. Photo credit: UC Berkeley School of Law.

Goodwin Liu's bid to become a judge on the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ended in a filibuster on Thursday. So what's next? It's expected that Liu -- who was nominated by President Obama over a year ago -- won't get an up-or-down vote, and that he will probably withdraw his nomination so that Obama can nominate someone else to fill the vacancy.

The 40-year-old Liu -- who is a UC Berkeley law professor, Yale Law School grad, Rhodes Scholar and former Supreme Court clerk -- seemed eminently qualified for the job, but he fell victim to partisan politics. Republicans likely feared he was on track for the Supreme Court, and his liberal stance on flashpoint issues like same-sex marriage and affirmative action drew considerable ire from conservatives.

Liu was the unfortunate victim of party politics, but the failure to get him on the US Circuit Court of Appeals is a dispiriting sign of something else: as America gets more and more diverse, its representatives in government -- from their policies to their ethnic background -- remain stridently out of touch.

Liu received a lot of support for his nomination. There was great interest from the Asian American community, because he would have been the first Asian American judge on the ninth circuit, which covers nine Western states (including California), where 40 percent of Asians in American live.

Party politics shows its worst side during debates like these. Senator Lindsey Graham called Liu an "ideologue," and Senator Chuck Grassley accused him of being a Communist. For a more unbiased, contextual view of Liu's political opinions, you can read his own writing: Keeping Faith With The Constitution, a book he co-authored with Pam Karlan and Chris Schroeder, explains the Constitution and how to interpret it, and it is available online for free, in its entirety.

The blogosphere has plenty to say in the wake of Liu's filibustered nomination. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick calls out Republican party tactics as "the return of the race to the bottom," and dissects accusations directed at Liu as "a hall of mirrors of hypocrisy." Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress says it does not bode well for those who are vocal in their opinions about interpreting the Constitution:

The question was no longer whether Liu belongs on the bench—he unambiguously does—but whether his opponents could find a way to distort his many pages of legal scholarship in order to paint him as some kind of radical. And because Liu is a very prolific scholar, he gave his opponents a whole lot of material to distort.

The Ninth Circuit will weigh in on issues concerning immigration and civil rights, and those kinds of issues would only benefit from a qualified representative on the bench who also reflects the community's own diverse background. Good magazine's infographic on what the US House and Senate would look like if they were demographically representative of its citizens clarifies the bigger picture, and it isn't encouraging. The only diverse thing about it is the number and make-up of its underrepresented groups, whether it's based on gender, race or religious affiliation. The position for which Liu was nominated has a direct impact on the community it represents.

This week's filibuster sent a message that substantial experience and careful examination of our Constitution does not make you qualified by government standards. Even worse, it sends the message that, despite having our first person of color in the White House, the representation of our elected officials from a perspective of ethnic, gender and other backgrounds looks pallid at best.


Robin Lapid

Online Editor
Robin Lapid is the Online Editor for Hyphen.



I hope this gets Asian Americans to register and vote democrat in 2012. Republicans are against minorities and this proves it.
The filibuster of Goodwin Liu has nothing to do with his ethnicity. His radical writings and views played a big role. Remember, he claims that there is a Constitutional right to welfare payments. Also, did you know about this smearing of Samuel Alito in 2006? Although he eventually backtracked, it shows signs of not being able to work well with others unless they agree in lockstep with him. There are many, many talented and capable Asian-Americans who would be a far better choice for a judge than Goodwin Liu. They are already holding prominet positions in many branches of the government in both political parties. I predict that there will be Asian-Americans on the 9th. Circuit Court pf Appeals and even the U.S. Supreme Court in our lifetimes. This is just one confirmation hearing of many to come.
It was a good day for America when the Senate blocked Liu's appointment. . I fully expected a those white guys did in the little yellow guy response. . My reading of Liu is he was a left extremist, pretty much a legal abstract artist. A man like him is not good for any race, nor is such a person good for a republic responsive to the people. Diversity should be expressed through law makers, NOT their judges. . I hope the Senate Republicans flex their muscle and shoot down any more Liu's in the pipeline. It was routine for the Democrats to stomp conservative judges, it is long over due the Republicans do the same with liberal ones and do it with manly vigor. . I'll use immigration, an issue you presented. Why not a legal panel consisting of a woman or man whose family was murdered by an illegal, a person that observes and records the effects of illegals on a community, a police officer, a legal immigrant, a factory worker displaced by an illegal and a business owner that employs illegals to render judgment of an immigration issue? Such a panel is real world, real word experienced, people that fully understand the issue from many perspectives, instead of one man or woman who squirreled themselves away in a university for several years and may see the law only as a way to advance themselves? . Such a plan would still leave a place for the Liu's of the world, he or she could advise such a judge panel on past legal hearings and past Supreme Court rulings on the issue before them.
It's a shame that people like Goodwin Liu are the targets of dubious party politics.
The tactics most often used by the politicians is to go for the extreme, so the next less extreme one is easier to swallow by the opposing party. What really happened here is a political game and the Democrats used Liu as a pawn to set up for the next extreme one. You really can't say it's a diversity thing here because if the Democrats picked John Yoo, I don't see how the Republicans can say no.