WASHINGTON — Seeking to assure skeptical Republicans, appeals court nominee Goodwin Liu told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday that he could be an impartial judge despite his liberal and sometimes controversial writing as a scholar.
Liu, President Obama's choice for a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco, told the panel that personal beliefs "never have a role" in how judges should rule from the bench.
"There really is no room in cases that come up for judges to invent new theories or create new doctrine," Liu said. "They are applying the law."
With his parents, his wife and his 4-week-old son in the audience, Liu, 39, told the panel that he often tried to write provocatively as a scholar but that he would not do so if confirmed as judge. And he urged senators to read all of his many writings.
"My record is an open book," said Liu.
While the committee took no votes, Republicans kept Liu in the hot seat, accusing him of working too hard to advocate liberal causes: national health care, affirmative action, gay marriage and slavery reparations, among others.
And they were clearly irked that he had opposed the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the committee, said he feared that Liu would engage in "intellectual judicial activism" and abuse the Constitution. And he questioned Liu's experience.
"He's never tried a case, never argued a case on appeal," Sessions said, adding that the Senate can only judge him on his academic record.
Liu, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, told the panel that he couldn't speak English until he went to kindergarten, but he became the co-valedictorian of his Sacramento, Calif., high school.
A Rhodes scholar who's now the associate dean of Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, Liu told the senators that he grew up with the late Rep. Bob Matsui of Sacramento as his mentor. Matsui's wife, Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui, attended the hearing in a show of support.