Filibuster blocks professor’s nomination to Court of Appeals

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MAY 22, 2011

United States Senate Republicans and one conservative Democrat used a filibuster to block the consideration of Goodwin Liu, an associate dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last Thursday.

In a 52-43 tally, Democrats were eight votes shy in ending the filibuster and securing a straight up-or-down vote for Liu’s nomination. Per constitutional rule, 60 out of 100 votes are needed to end a filibuster.

The filibuster was created mainly to protect minority party interests against majority party dominance when voting in the Senate. Because excessive use of the filibuster would enable a minority of senators to paralyze any progress, it is traditionally used sparingly.

A filibuster to block a Court of Appeals nominee was first used in 1980 when Republicans tried but failed to block former President Jimmy Carter’s nomination of Stephen Breyer to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Liu’s nomination for the position — his third from President Barack Obama — has been a rocky and contentious process. Republicans have questioned Liu’s qualifications for the position, stating that he lacks experience, and reiterated concerns about him promoting a liberal interpretation of the Constitution.

Liu has been a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law since 2003 and specializes in constitutional law.

In last year’s congressional session, Liu testified before the senate’s Judiciary Committee, after which Republican senators confronted him with supplemental questions via email. Republicans voted along party lines in favor of bringing it to the full Senate, but never voted to confirm the nomination.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement that the filibuster of Liu’s nomination would put the legal system at a disadvantage.

“I believe the ramifications of this Republican filibuster will be deeply felt in California and across the country,” she said in the statement. “When we deny a judicial nominee of Professor Liu’s caliber — a man of intelligence, integrity and dignity — we weaken our nation’s legal system.”

Contact Katie Nelson at 


MAY 22, 2011