Goodwin Liu nomination: Republicans show their "extraordinary" hypocrisy.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
May 19 2011 7:17 PM

Extraordinary Hypocrisy

How Republican senators justified their decision to kill the nomination of Goodwin Liu.

Goodwin Liu. Click to expand image.
Goodwin Liu

It was a hall of mirrors of hypocrisy at Thursday's Senate vote on the nomination of Goodwin Liu to be a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. At least 60 senators had to agree to allow the Senate to give Liu a straight up-or-down vote. Didn't happen. Liu, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, is the first judicial nominee to be filibustered since 2005.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

First, there are the most obvious failures of intellectual consistency: Republicans who once claimed that filibustering judicial nominees is "offensive to our nation's constitutional design" (Sen. John Cornyn, 2004) and flat-out "unconstitutional" (Sen. Lindsey Graham, 2005) voted against Liu. Even the Republican who said he "will vote to support a vote, up or down, on every nominee—understanding that, were I in the minority party and the issues reversed, I would take exactly the same position because this document, our Constitution, does not equivocate"—even that guy (Sen. Johnny Isakson, 2005) voted against Liu.

Advertisement

You can blame Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for forcing the Liu issue, or the White House for abandoning it. But nothing changes the fact that the judicial confirmation détente of 2005, when the so-called "Gang of 14" pledged that honorably fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities meant that "nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances," is over. The era in which the self-styled grownups on both sides agree that the judicial vacancy rate represents a national crisis, and that the Senate's responsibility to advise and consent does not extend to delaying and distorting, is over, too.

It's not just a return to business as usual for the judicial confirmation process. It's the return of the race to the bottom. Here's a good idea: Let's fight about who started it for a while. Neither side is blameless for the degeneration of this enterprise into a stew of insults and umbrage. But Republicans must take all the responsibility for their decision that Liu was the man over whom they should go to war.

Goodwin Liu is many, many things (disclosure: I have met him several times), but an "extraordinary circumstance" he is not. Liu is a Yale and Stanford graduate and associate dean of one of the many Top 10 law schools in the country. He received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association and endorsements from legal thinkers from across the political spectrum, including Kenneth Starr and Clint Bolick.

But Senate Republicans were set on making an example of Liu, who was nominated well over a year ago. As Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center explained today, the Republicans who opposed Liu's nomination "were completely ignoring what Goodwin Liu testified to under oath," instead relying on "a distorted interpretation of things he said years ago in his scholarship." It was as if the sworn testimony had never even happened. Liu testified not once but twice before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he was unfailingly temperate, scholarly, and sober. Yet from the start Republicans depicted him as the Tim Riggins of the legal academy—all beer-soaked hair and bloody knuckles—and never varied that picture in the face of the evidence. The caricature of Liu as careless and reckless and "wacky" never dimmed, even while it never fit. A few lines plucked from a few articles, repeated on an infinite loop, obscured one of the most thoughtful and serious legal minds of a generation.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.