Friday, May 20, 2011

Hypocrisy and Worse On Liu

One of the "Gang of 14" senators who promised not to block judicial nominees from up-or-down votes except in "extraordinary circumstances", Sen. Collins voted yesterday to filibuster the nomination of constitutional scholar, Berkeley law professor, former Rhodes Scholar and Stanford Board of Trustees member Goodwin Liu to a US circuit court vacancy.

Why did she vote to prevent a majority of senators from approving the obviously qualified Liu, whose confirmation has been endorsed by right wing court watchers like Kenneth Starr and John Yoo?

After some snarky throat-clearing--Collins complains about Liu's demonstrably true claim that Justice Alito "is at the margin of the judicial spectrum, not the mainstream"--we get this:

It is Mr. Liu's views that are far outside the mainstream. His writings demonstrate what National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor calls his "sweeping vision of court-ordered social justice." Mr. Liu has written that "Some [say] that courts...can only do so much to change society, that some things, some problems are best left to politics and not principle....I want to disagree with this view...." In other words, Liu embodies the very essence of judicial activism.
That's the entire substance of the junior senator's critique of Liu.

But aren't you just a little bit curious about what Liu said inside those ellipses? Here's the full passage, minus the selective editing:

You know, it has become fashionable, I think today, fifty years after [Brown v. Board of Education] to believe that Brown was not all that it was cracked up to be. Schools are still segregated. The achievement gap is still too wide, and equality of opportunity is still more a theory than a reality.

And from these facts some observers conclude that the legacy of Brown is that courts, and more broadly law, can only do so much to change society. That some things, some problems are best left to politics and not principle, and that to believe otherwise is to indulge a hollow hope. I want to disagree with this view.
Is Liu embodying the very essence of judicial activism here? Or is he simply making a point about pessimism and the law--a point that has absolutely nothing to do with judicial activism?

More specifically: Does Collins think the desegregation sought by the Brown plaintiffs--which is what Liu is clearly referring to when he alludes to "chang[ing] society"--should have been denied by the Supreme Court? Should it have been dealt with through "politics and not principle"? Or is she simply bent on smearing Liu, and mangling his words to fit the preconceived rhetorical frame of "judicial activism" whether it fits or not?

I think the evidence here is pretty clear.

What's also clear: This kind of deliberate, ideologically-motivated misrepresentation is ugly, cynical and undignified. It's the kind of thing the "Susan Collins" you hear about in the Maine media and elsewhere would never indulge in.

And yet there it is.

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