This was a vote on a motion to end debate (cloture motion) on President Obama’s nomination Goodwin Liu to be a U.S. Circuit Court judge in California. Cloture motions require 60 votes for passage.
Under the constitution, the president has the authority to nominate individuals for federal judgeships, but a majority of the Senate must vote in favor of their nomination in order for them to be sworn into office.
While most Democrats strongly supported Liu’s nomination, Republicans had remained staunchly opposed to his nomination. Much of the Republican criticism of Liu centered around his opposition to President Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito and John Roberts to the Supreme Court. When Liu was a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, he said sharply criticized Alito’s judicial record in testimony given at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: “Judge Alito's record envisions an America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse; where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance; where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep on the promise that they won't turn it on unless an informant is in the room; where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man, absent a multiple regression analysis showing discrimination; and where police may search what a warrant permits, and then some….I humbly submit that this is not the America we know. Nor is it the America we aspire to be.”
Republicans also characterized Liu’s progressive stances on social issues as extreme, particularly his expressed support for same-sex marriage and affirmative action. Arguing that Liu was “out of the mainstream,” Republicans filibustered his nomination for over a year, which effectively blocked an up-or-down vote on his confirmation.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) urged senators to vote to end debate on Liu’s nomination: “The son of immigrants, he attended Stanford University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He won a Rhodes Scholarship, attended Yale Law School, where he was editor of the Yale Law Review. He served as a law clerk to Judge Tatel of the DC Circuit and to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After finishing his second clerkship, the one at the Supreme Court, he worked for years at the law firm of O'Melveny & Myers in Washington. Then he joined the faculty at the University of California-Berkeley Law School….What is the point of this debate? We know he is well qualified. We know there is a judicial emergency that requires us to fill this seat--and we should have done it a long time ago. When we look at his resume, it would put every lawyer, including myself, to shame, when we consider all that he has done leading up to this moment in his career. It turns out those who oppose him do not oppose his qualifications. They think he has the wrong philosophy, the wrong values. They criticize him for a handful of statements he made while he served as a professor.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) opposed the nomination: “Based upon nearly everything that Mr. Liu, Professor Liu, has written or said, I have some very serious concerns about his impartiality and suitability to serve as a life-tenured judge….During the confirmation hearings of Justice Sam Alito, who is now on the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Liu went out of his way to testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a way I can only describe as vicious and disgraceful….These were not an off-the-cuff set of remarks or a temporary lapse in judgment; they were a product of carefully scripted and prepared testimony provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Alito hearings….I asked Professor Liu that, if given the opportunity, would he change anything about his remarks about Justice Alito. In response, Mr. Liu claimed that he regrets having written that passage, calling it `unduly harsh and provocative.' Well, Professor Liu waited 4 years to provide that semi-apology to Justice Alito for these shameful remarks. Like so many nominees who come before the Senate Judiciary committee, they seem to undergo a nomination conversion that changes the tone and nature of their remarks and attitudes. Frankly, we cannot depend on this conversion sticking. We need greater assurance that the nominees who come before the Senate are going to exercise a sort of dispassionate judgment that we expect of judges.”
The vote on this cloture motion was 52-43. Voting “yea” were 51 Democrats and 1 Republican. 42 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted “nay.” Since this motion did not receive the 60 votes required to invoke cloture, the measure failed. As a result, the Senate rejected a motion to end debate on President Obama’s nomination of Goodwin Liu to be a U.S. Circuit Court judge in California. Since the Senate was unlikely to hold a second cloture vote on Liu’s confirmation, this vote effectively killed Liu’s nomination.