Grassley, Republicans filibuster judicial nominee

Yesterday Senator Chuck Grassley and almost all his Senate Republican colleagues blocked a motion to end debate on the nomination of Goodwin Liu for the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (roll call). Tom Harkin and all but one Senate Democrat voted for the cloture motion. A 40-year-old law professor at the University of California in Berkeley, Liu had strong academic and legal credentials. Conservatives opposed his liberal policy views as well as his criticism of President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. During his confirmation hearing in March, Liu said the conclusion of his 2006 testimony against Alito showed “poor judgment.”

Liu would have been the only Asian-American on the 9th Circuit panel, which covers territory where more 40 percent of Asian-Americans live. Some observers have suggested that Republicans wanted to keep Liu off the appeals bench to prevent him from being a future U.S. Supreme Court nominee. (Similar concerns were raised about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor when President Bill Clinton nominated her for an appeals court judgeship in the 1990s.) President Barack Obama has drawn criticism for the “slow pace” of his judicial nominations, but he had nominated Liu three times for this post.

Liu was the second high-profile Obama appointee filibustered this month. On May 9, Grassley and most of his Senate Republican colleagues blocked a motion to end debate on the nomination of James Cole for deputy attorney general. The president had nominated Cole for the position in May 2010, naming him as one of six recess appointees in December after Republicans long delayed considering his nomination.

Cole has extensive experience in private practice and in various Justice Department positions. He is best known for being the House Ethics Committee special counsel who investigated then Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997. Gingrich ultimately paid a $300,000 fine for breaking House ethics rules; Cole discussed that investigation at length in this 1997 interview.

Grassley didn’t mention the Gingrich investigation in his lengthy prepared floor statement opposing Cole’s nomination. Grassley cited the Justice Department’s failure to cooperate with investigations into whistleblower allegations, as well as a 2002 op-ed piece Cole wrote advocating criminal trials in U.S. civilian courts rather than military tribunals for terrorism suspects. Finally, Grassley criticized Cole’s work as an independent consultant hired in 2004 to monitor the insurance giant AIG’s compliance with a securities fraud settlement.

The least convincing part of Grassley’s statement on Cole was this: “I have been consistent in my opposition to recess appointments over the years.” Trouble is, President George W. Bush “made 171 recess appointments, of which 99 were to full-time positions.” I do not recall Grassley filibustering a Bush nominee for any position.

Grassley may have been especially upset by Obama’s December 2010 batch of recess appointees because they included Norm Eisen for U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. The U.S. had been without an ambassador to that country for two years, and Grassley was the lone senator holding up Eisen’s nomination. He “accused Eisen of improperly firing an inspector general for partisan political reasons”; Eisen denied that claim. In January, Grassley and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa wrote to White House Counsel Bob Bauer, calling Eisen’s appointment “particularly inappropriate.”

UPDATE: After the jump I’ve added Grassley’s official statements on the Goodwin Liu nomination and the failed cloture vote. I also added the full prepared floor statement from Grassley on May 18, explaining his reasons for opposing Liu. These prepared remarks do not include statements Grassley made on the Senate floor that day, asking rhetorically whether Liu thinks “we’re the communist-run China.” Speaking in the chamber, Grassley suggested that by discussing how conservatives use terms like  “free enterprise” and “private ownership of property” as code words, Liu was implying that “if you get government more involved, like they do in China, it’s somehow a better place.”

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