With Goodwin Liu, Asian Americans now the majority on California’s highest court-but is diversity the winner?


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 Washington?

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 majority.

Count ’em.

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 the court.

Where’s the diversity there in a state where Latinos are the largest minority?

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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