Playing the identity politics game

In a disheartening display, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on judicial nominee Goodwin Liu yesterday, despite repeated public assurances that they would never, ever do such a thing. I’m curious, though, what these same Republicans would do if the shoe were on the other foot.

Ian Millhiser noted something interesting the other day, before the GOP blocked Liu, about the nominee’s ethnicity.

Liu would … become the only active Asian-American judge on the Ninth Circuit, despite the fact that one in ten residents of the circuit are Asian Pacific Americans, and he will fill a vacancy that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts deems a “judicial emergency.”

Now, as best as I can tell, the fact that Liu is an Asian-American played absolutely no role in the confirmation fight. Republicans went after him for partisan and ideological reasons, not racist ones.

But let’s not forget how the Senate GOP dealt with controversial judicial nominees in the Bush era.

When Harriet Miers’ Supreme Court nomination came under fire, Republicans suggested her liberal critics were misogynists.

When Bill Pryor’s 11th Circuit nomination came under fire, Republicans suggested his liberal critics were anti-Catholic.

When Miguel Estrada’s D.C. Circuit nomination came under fire, Republicans suggested his liberal critics were anti- Hispanic.

When Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination came under fire, Republicans suggested his liberal critics don’t like Italian-Americans.

When Janice Rogers Brown D.C. Circuit nomination came under fire, Republicans suggested her liberal critics were racists.

All of this was, of course, painfully stupid. Sincere differences over ideology and the law, in conservatives’ eyes, legitimized charges of bigotry.

I’m glad Democrats don’t play the game this way, but it doesn’t take much of an imagination to know what the right would be saying if Dems opposed — and ultimately blocked — a respected and qualified constitutional scholar who would be the only Asian-American on the 9th Circuit.