UC Berkeley School of Law professor Goodwin Liu won confirmation earlier this month as the newest Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California. The unanimous vote by the three-member Commission on Judicial Appointments came after Liu’s supporters spoke on his behalf at a public hearing in San Francisco—there was no opposing testimony. Friends, family, and colleagues in the audience broke out into spontaneous applause after the vote.
The confirmation hearing was followed on Thursday by a swearing-in ceremony with Gov. Jerry Brown in Sacramento. Attorney General Kamala Harris, lawmakers, friends, and family attended the ceremony, which took place in the Rotunda of the State Capitol building.
At the swearing-in ceremony, Liu recalled boyhood visits to the Capitol during Brown’s first term as governor from 1975 to 1983.
“I stood in this rotunda many times, perhaps even on days, Governor, when you were hard at work just a few paces away,” Liu said. “But I never imagined that our paths would cross quite like this.”
Brown nominated Liu in July to fill the seat vacated by former Justice Carlos Moreno. Professor Liu had been nominated by President Obama to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit more than one year ago, but Senate Republicans blocked a cloture vote on his nomination. Liu withdrew his name from consideration this past May.
The 10 witnesses who testified on Liu’s behalf included Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley, who had promoted Liu to associate dean shortly after he earned tenure. Edley praised Liu for his “patience, clarity, organization, humor, a balanced temperament, and good listening skills.” Edley said “there was no one on the faculty more widely respected or more genuinely admired for his fairness, collegiality, and good judgment.”
Goodwin earned the highest rating of “exceptionally well-qualified” by the state bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominations Evaluation. He also received more than one thousand supporting letters from various legal associations, members of Congress, and law professors nationwide.
Professor David Sklansky, a colleague of Liu’s at Berkeley Law, testified that “without exception,” Liu is “someone who is deeply principled” and “who builds consensus in the very best way: not by splitting the difference between right and wrong, but by leadership, intelligence, and demonstrable, unerring fairness.” Sklansky said he was impressed with Liu’s “powerful intellect but also with his character: his decency, his open-mindedness, and his evenhandedness.”
Former president of the California State Bar, Holly Fujie ’78, said she reviewed professor Liu’s articles and speeches and found “a brilliant man who rationally and even-handedly analyzed all legal issues presented to him, and who had a deep respect for the rule of law and the Constitution.”
One of Liu’s former students, Benita Brahmbhatt ‘10, who recently clerked for Judge Diane Wood on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, said professor Liu had a “profound impact” on her development and added that it was his “skill as an instructor combined with his passion for justice” that inspired his students.
The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Liu grew up in Sacramento and attended public schools until he went to college at Stanford University. After graduating with honors, he won a Rhodes Scholarship and earned a masters degree at Oxford. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1998 and joined the California bar in 1999, making him the first person in his family to become a lawyer.
Liu’s background has served as a model to aspiring Asian American professionals. President of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area Malcolm Yeung ’01 called Liu a “living articulation of the aspirations of our members.” He praised Liu’s “rigorous and courageous intellectual contributions in the area of educational equity,” and his “legal mind of unsurpassed quality.”
The judicial commission, composed of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye; Attorney General Kamala Harris; and Joan Dempsey-Klein, California’s senior appeals court justice, concluded the hearing with a vote to confirm.
Liu said he was “honored” and also “deeply humbled” by the opportunity to serve the people of California, and he thanked his family for their unwavering support.
Liu will assume his seat on the Court in time to hear oral arguments in the Prop 8 same-sex marriage case early next week.
Liu’s appointment follows the tradition of UC Berkeley Law School faculty and alums that have been chosen to serve on the state’s highest court. Previous appointments include Ira Thompson 1909, Chief Justice Roger Traynor ’27, Mathew Tobriner ’32, Frank Newman ’41, Alan Broussard ’53, Cruz Reynoso ’58, Chief Justice Rose Bird ’65, and Kathryn Werdegar.
Liu was accompanied at the hearing by his wife, Ann O’Leary ‘05, and their two children, Violet and Emmett O’Leary-Liu.
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