In disheartening display, Senate blocks Goodwin Liu vote

Watching the Senate is routinely frustrating, but some days, it’s just disheartening.

As of two weeks ago, it seemed as if the chamber had finally turned a corner on dealing with judicial nominees. We finally saw a Republican contingent willing to give jurists an up-or-down vote, even if they intended to vote against the nomination, suggesting some sanity had returned to the chamber.

It didn’t last.

Citing “extraordinary circumstances,” Republicans successfully filibustered their first judge nominated by President Barack Obama Thursday.

In a 52-43 vote, Democrats fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to beat back a filibuster and bring a matter to a final vote. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted present.

Just six years ago, Republican leaders tried to do away with judicial filibusters altogether, but on Thursday they used the filibuster weapon that had been honed by Democrats in President George W. Bush’s first term to defeat Goodwin Liu’s nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Republicans who said they’d never filibuster a judicial nominee? They filibustered a judicial nominee. The Republican “moderates” who said they found these tactics distasteful? They filibustered Liu, too. When the dust cleared, how many GOP senators were willing to give this nominee an up-or-down vote? Just one: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski.

The issue isn’t qualifications. Liu is a respected constitutional law scholar who teaches at Berkley, a graduate of Yale law school, and was a Rhodes Scholar. He’s also the son of Taiwanese immigrants, who would have brought some much-needed diversity to the bench.

So, what’s the problem? Liu criticized Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination, and Republicans have decided to punish him for it.

Keep in mind, Liu is obviously one of President Obama’s more progressive nominees, but Liu also enjoys the backing of the American Bar Association and many prominent conservatives. Richard Painter, White House ethics lawyer under Bush who worked on Roberts and Alito’s nomination, not only called for Liu to receive a vote but also urged the Senate to confirm him. Even Ken Starr — yes, that Ken Starr — sang Liu’s praises.

If brought to the floor, Liu would have been confirmed. So Republicans refused to allow a vote.

Even by the standards of the modern, dysfunctional Senate, this was a pathetic display.

Update: Be sure to take a look at the rhetorical record of Senate Republicans who swore publicly that they’d never filibuster a judicial nominee, and in fact argued that the very idea is unconstitutional.