There’s a hard way and an easy way.
And in the end Goodwin Liu took the easy way.
Who could blame him after the nearly two years of being a political football in
Today, Liu, the embattled yet eminently well-qualified Asian American legal
scholar who couldn’t get a fair shake at the U.S. Senate as an Obama nominee to
the Ninth Circuit, has settled for a decent consolation prize.
He’s to be sworn in as the newest member to the California Supreme Court, which
now hits a diversity milestone of sorts.
It’s a high court with the highest tally of Asian Americans forming a bench
Six of the seven justices are GOP appointees. And of the seven, four are Asian
Americans. Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice and Schwarzenegger’s last
appointee, is a Filipino American. Then there’s Ming Chin, a Chinese American,
and Joyce Kennard, who is of Indonesian descent.
Add Goodwin Liu, the son of immigrant Taiwanese doctors, who grew up in
Sacramento, and was a Stanford, Yale Law and Rhodes Scholar (a model minority’s
trifecta), and you have your high court majority.
As the only Democratic appointee on the current court, Liu may not always vote
with the other Asian Americans as a bloc. Despite the GOP branding him an ardent
leftist, Liu is fairly balanced. He’s pro-affirmative action and same-sex
marriage. But he’s also a big proponent of the conservative preference for
vouchers and school choice.
Still, his addition makes for quite an occurrence, a majority Asian American
bench in the largest and most Asian state in the union.
It all comes just a day after the same facts of Liu’s record and life were
reviewed by a three-person commission of legal officials on Wednesday.
The panel made up of Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala
Harris (part South Asian and a Democrat), and Joan Dempsey Klein, the state’s
senior presiding appellate justice (a Democratic appointee) were much friendlier
than the white male and rabidly conservative bloc that prevented Liu from even
getting a floor vote in the Senate.
Where there was rancor in Washington, with Liu being made to defend specious and
disingenuous charges about legislating from the bench, the California process
was like a love-in.
There was no misreading of Liu’s background, no GOP blockade. No political
payback for his outspokenness on the appointments of Samuel Alito or John
Roberts. The California process was merely what many had hoped for in
Washington: a civil and honest assessment of a brilliant legal mind.
I wrote a few months back that Liu shouldn’t give up. I wanted to see him fight
through the Washington nonsense. The truth makes you want to take that stand.
Here’s a guy who is the epitome of Asian American success. If he could be
blocked so readily by the GOP, it could happen to any of us.
Liu, however, made a personal decision to withdraw. But as I said, who can blame
him for wanting to go home.
The California treatment of Liu made me sentimental for a prior time when
politics wasn’t so destructive and didn’t set out to tear people down for the
sake of partisanship or ideology. State politics can be as venomous as anything
we’ve seen on the national level. And certainly on issues of the state budget
especially, a certain bullheadedness emerges.
But it didn’t happen with Liu. Did we catch a break?
It could all be a fantasy when Liu’s work begins in earnest next week. The
justices are to consider whether backers of Proposition 8, the initiative that
banned same-sex marriage in California, can represent the state in appealing the
federal ruling that struck down the marriage ban.
There are also some diversity questions that Liu’s appointment brings up. It’s
great to say we have a majority Asian court, four Asian Americans, three whites.
But as long as we’re counting, there are no Latinos and no African Americans on
Where’s the diversity there in a state where Latinos are the largest minority?