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Liu Faces Contentious Confirmation Hearing

Goodwin H. Liu, a federal appeals court nominee with broad education policy experience, faced sharp criticism today from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Republicans repeatedly cited a Stanford Law Review article in which Liu suggested a re-examination of "welfare rights," which Liu construed as including education, shelter, and health care, as federal constitutional rights.

"I don't think there is any doubt you are an American success story," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Liu, the son of immigrants from Taiwan. "The question I have is, is this the right job for you?"

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking GOP member of the panel, said during the hearing that Liu's writings "represent the very vanguard of what I would call intellectual judicial activism."

Republicans also expressed concerns about what they called Liu's failure to fully respond and provide materials on his committee questionnaire and his opposition to the nominations by President George W. Bush of John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.

The battle over Liu's nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is being widely viewed as a tuneup battle for President Obama's forthcoming nomination of someone to the U.S. Supreme Court to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens, who will retire at the end of the court's term in late June.

Democrats on the panel came to Liu's defense. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Liu's parents kept him from learning English until he entered kindergarten so he would not have an accent.

Feinstein also cited the fact that Liu was the first-ever recipient, in 2007, of the Education Law Association's Steven S. Goldberg Award for distinguished scholarship in education law.

The nomination of Liu, an associate dean and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is supported by a bipartisan group of education policy experts. He served as a special assistant in the U.S. Department of Education in 1999 and 2000 under Secretary Richard B. Riley Jr. Liu has also written extensively on education issues. (My blog post here; Politics K-12 here.)

Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., asked Liu what his Education Department experience taught him.

"I worked for some extremely talented leaders in the agency," Liu said, adding that he learned firsthand how regulatory decisions are made.

Except for the Stanford Law Review "welfare" article, Republicans did not press him on specific education policy matters.

Lui stressed at one point that much of his writing on education would not necessarily come into play if he were confirmed for the 9th Circuit.

"Most of my writings on education and social policy have been directed at policymakers and legislators, not at judges," Liu said.

The 9th Circuit covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

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