Goodwin Liu, whose nomination to the federal bench was blocked by Senate Republicans, has been nominated by California Governor Jerry Brown to the Supreme Court of California.
So what does that mean for Liu fans hoping to see him elevated to the Supreme Court? Well, experience on a state supreme court is probably better than being a law professor, but these days even folks without court experience are elevated more frequently. A Congressional Research Service Report from 2009 looked at the professional background of Supreme Court nominees, and a strong preference for U.S. Circuit Court judges emerges in the last sixty years or so. Eight of the current nine justices have circuit court experience*.
Early circuit judges weren't picked much, according to CRS, because holding circuit court in the early days of the Republic literally involved Supreme Court justices traveling from state to state, and at least one, Justice James Wilson, died in 1789 of malaria.
UCLA law professor Adam Winkler explains that the recent preference for U.S. Circuit Court judges stems in part from politics. "Unlike lower federal court judges, who can explain away controversial decisions by insisting they were only following the doctrine established by the U.S. Supreme Court, state supreme court judges are accountable for their writings," Winkler says. "They are like professors in that regard, so this won't necessarily help Liu win a federal appointment one day."
Liu won't face anything resembling a Senate filibuster, but he does still have to be approved by the California Commission on Judicial Nominees. If he gets through, the state of California holds retention elections for Supreme Court judges, which means that Republicans eager for another crack at ending Liu's career will get an opportunity to do so during the 2012 elections. If Liu ever faces the Senate again, though, they won't be able to say he's never been a judge, for better or for worse.
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