Goodwin Liu, Goodnight

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 20 2011 9:19 AM

Goodwin Liu, Goodnight

Dahlia writes on the filibuster of Goodwin Liu:

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. 

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One problem: Liu's blistering attack on Sam Alito, which was tough but totally within the bounds of political debate,, was not the reason Republicans had to give in 2010 for slow-walking the nomination. Liu had not quite filled out his CV with all of his work, and Republicans found attackable stuff in the documents he left out. The confirmation fight became about what this "radical" judge was hiding, not what he had said.

Post-Bork, there's no real interest anymore in allowing a president you disagree with nominate judges with ideologies you don't like. It's still depressing to see judges attacked, as Alito was, for memberships in conservative alumni associations, or attacked as Liu was, for out-of-context quotes that any literate adult could put in context. (His infamous argument that words like "property rights" and "free markets" could be buzzwords for agenda litigation is simply true; they have meanings of their own, but they are also buzzwords. There is one sure way to get confirmed: Be brilliant, garner a reputation for brilliance with people who matter, but leave no paper trail of note, so you can make a Senate confirmation speech about umpires calling "balls of strikes" then get in and do whatever you want. But write a mean speech or participate in an ACORN fundraiser once? Sorry: You're about to get advise-and-consented into oblivion.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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