Gov. Jerry Brown said today that Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu did not apply for a state Supreme Court post and that Brown instead reached out to him after learning about his credentials during a bruising U.S. Senate battle.
"I noticed he was having trouble getting confirmed," Brown said, referring to President Obama's unsuccessful nomination of Liu to serve on a federal appeals court in San Francisco.
That nomination process, however, drew Brown's attention to Liu's qualifications and background, the governor said at a news conference at the State Building in San Francisco.
"Based on that, I just picked up the telephone and said, 'I'd like to talk to you,'" the governor said.
Brown nominated Liu, 40, a professor of constitutional law at the University of California at Berkeley, to the California Supreme Court today.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he has the background, the intellect and the vision to really help our state Supreme Court again to be one of the great courts of our country," Brown said.
Brown said he eventually interviewed Liu at Brown's loft residence in Oakland and said, "The more I talked to him, the more impressed I was.
"He is extremely knowledgeable and has a very agile mind and a great concern for human beings," Brown said.
Liu has taught at UC Berkeley since 2003 and previously worked for the U.S. Department of Education and in private practice.
The son of Taiwanese immigrants, he was born in Georgia and grew up in Sacramento. He earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford, a master's degree from Oxford and his law degree from Yale.
Liu was previously nominated twice by President Obama, in 2010 and 2011, to a judgeship on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But that nomination was blocked by U.S. Senate Republicans, and Liu eventually withdrew his name during a Republican filibuster in May.
Liu must be confirmed to the new post by the state Commission on Judicial Appointments, made up of California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and senior Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein.
If confirmed, he will replace Justice Carlos Moreno, who retired in February.
Liu would be one of four justices of Asian descent and one of three men on the seven-member court, which is based in San Francisco.
The panel currently has no Hispanic and no African-American members.
Asked about the lack of representation of those two groups, Brown said he did not think national origin, gender or race should be the predominant factor in judicial nominations.
"You have to weigh many factors. We're all Americans, we're all Californians," Brown said.
Moreno issued a statement saying, "Governor Brown is to be commended for this visionary and truly meritorious appointment.
"Goodwin Liu is a brilliant scholar and dedicated teacher. He is admired for his measured, balanced and rational judgment," Moreno said.
UC Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley called Liu "an exemplary scholar with enormous constitutional knowledge and intellectual rigor."
Liu said in a statement, "I'm deeply honored by Governor Brown's nomination and look forward to the opportunity to serve the people of California on our state's highest court."
Brown said he expects Liu will be confirmed by September, which is when the state high court is scheduled to hear arguments on an important procedural issue concerning Proposition 8, the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.
That issue is whether the sponsors of the measure have the legal right to appeal a federal court ruling that struck down the ban.
Brown said he did not ask Liu about his views on same-sex marriage or the death penalty during interviews. Instead, Brown said he asked Liu about the role of law and the role of the state Supreme Court.
If confirmed, Liu would be the first member of the court since the 1980s who had not previously served as a judge.
Brown said he did not consider lack of judicial experience to be a problem and cited the example of Roger Traynor, a Berkeley law professor who was appointed to the court by Gov. Culbert Olson in 1940 and came to be considered one of the panel's greatest chief justices.
Brown said he thought Liu's academic background would complement the experience of the court's other six members, all of whom previously served as Court of Appeal justices.
"I think he will add to the mix up there," Brown said.
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