At this morning’s executive business meeting, the Senate Judiciary approved Booth Goodwin to become the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia. Goodwin’s endorsement came at the end of the meeting, when a handful of nominees, including John Foster and Gary M. Gaskins to be the U.S. Marshals for West Virginia’s Southern and Northern districts, respectively, were approved all together by the committee.
Almost the entire meeting was spent discussing a different Goodwin, Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who is up for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Liu passed out of committee by a 12-7 vote on strict party lines, with multiple Republican senators, including Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Kyl (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), and Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) all speaking out against Liu’s record as an academic with no judicial experience.
Sessions worried about adding Liu to the Ninth Circuit, which he called “one of the most undisciplined courts in America, one of the most activist courts in America.” Hatch questioned whether Liu would put his own views ahead of settled law, saying, “The Constitution must control government, not the other way around.”
Democrats countered that the senate had confirmed several circuit judges nominated by Republican presidents who had academic rather than judicial experience. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.) noted that neither Judge Michael W. McConnell (who resigned from the Tenth Circuit in August 2009 to become the director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center) and J. Harvie Wilkinson III (who taught law at the University of Virginia and edited the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot‘s editorial page for three years before President Reagan appointed him to the Fourth Circuit in 1984) had any judicial experience before becoming appeallate judges.
The discussion of Liu’s credentials offers an interesting prelude to the confirmation hearings of Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee to replace retiring Associate Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. Although Kagan is expected to be confirmed without too much difficulty, oppenents to her nomination are likely to raise the same issues about her academic, rather than judicial, experience.