Political Animal


May 20, 2011 10:45 AM Playing the identity politics game

By Steve Benen

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.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • upyernoz on May 20, 2011 10:50 AM:

  • Rasputin22 on May 20, 2011 10:50 AM:

    Fish swim. Birds fly. The Pope is Catholic. And Republicans are hypocritical and intellectually dishonest. Ho hum, just another dog bites man story.

  • Hannah on May 20, 2011 10:52 AM:

    Oh good grief. All we heard while the Rs were in power was that judicial nominees deserved an "up or down vote". Up or down, up or down, up or down. Day and night.

    It's a shame. Goodwin Liu is one of the most qualified people out there.

  • stormskies on May 20, 2011 10:54 AM:

    The repiglican party only lies, deceives, and has absolutely no principles at all other than being for, and protecting, the rich in every possible way. That and their absolute desire for power. It simply comes down to this. And they will lie and deceive in every possible way to serve those ends. And, of course, their evil rationalization for this is the infamous 'the ends justifies the means".

    And it as if all those that vote for these repiglicans are saying 'yes, lie to me', 'yes, deceive me'. 'Yes, I want to be mislead' and, 'yes, i want to vote against my own self interest'. And, 'yes, that's how stupid I am'.

  • Bloix on May 20, 2011 10:56 AM:

    The Republicans understand that once they return to power the main obstacle to a permanent one-party state will be an independent judiciary. They don't intend to let that happen. They prefer fascist-tending ideologues like Roberts and Alito and will accept weak-kneed statist "moderates" - but no one with a genuine commitment to the rule of law will be permitted on the bench.

  • Redshift on May 20, 2011 11:00 AM:

    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.

    The reasons may not have been racist, but that didn't stop them from using racist tactics, like Grassley criticizing Liu's views that the conservative so-called "free market" agenda is hostile to environmental, workplace and consumer protections:

    "Does [Liu] think we’re the communist-run China? That the government runs everything?"

    Given the Republican obsession with calling all their enemies communists, there's the thinnest of cover there, but it's still pretty transparent. (And needless to say, if the positions were reversed, this quote would have been running day and night on Fox.)

  • DAY on May 20, 2011 11:00 AM:

    Oh, puleeese! It's not about Liu.
    It's about the darkie in the (their) White House.

  • slappy magoo on May 20, 2011 11:29 AM:

    @Rasputin22, it would be a little shortsighted to pass of what the Republicans are doing as mere hypocrisy (though that's certainly a part of it.

    What must always be understood, what must never be forgotten, is that part of the GOP's standard tactics to winning elections is to suppress the vote.

    Sometimes that is done in blatant ways, like Wisconsin's recent passing of a bill that would make voters show ID before voting, thus alienating people who might not have a state ID, generally poor and/or minority status citizens who tend to vote for Democrats. Another example is how they wiped ACORN off the face of the map.

    And there are the illegal dirty tricks to which we are all accustomed but no one ever takes credit. Robocalls to Dems saying only Republicans are supposed to vote THIS Tuesday, Dems and indies are supposed NEXT Tuesday.

    And then there are the subtle ways, most notably the attempt to confuse citizens to the point that they don't know who to believe, so they don't trust themselves as something as important as the election process, so they stay home. They do this by a: lying about the Dems (they want to kill Grandma, destroy Medicare, they're weak on terror, they want to destroy family values, blah de freakin' blah). They also do it by "they do it, too" gamesmanship. Accusing Dems of things they've done, are doing and will do again. And make sure that what they accuse the Dems are doing sounds just as serious, if not more so. Thus, Republicans have been caught in blatant acts of voter suppression and voter caging...but a black guy in Philly from the New Black Panthers may have been intimidating people trying to vote. So they all do it. Bush was elected into office by the Supreme Court in 2000 illegally stopping the recount in Florida, but Obama's not eligible because we heard he's from Kenya, so who are you going to trust? Republicans are blocking judicial nominees after they said they wouldn't, but Dems said Harriet Miers wasn't qualified, so they're all guilty of the same damn thing. Politicians! You just can't trust any of 'em! Why bother voting, that's what I say. Just stay home, send them a signal THAT way...

    And that's how Republicans win.

  • DAY on May 20, 2011 11:43 AM:

    Adding to slappy mcgoo, have you noticed that yard signs are ALWAYS red, white, and blue- and NEVER tell the party affiliation? It's all about name recognition!

  • zeitgeist on May 20, 2011 11:45 AM:

    heck, I'm not at all glad the Dems don't play that way. That's why we lose.

    Look, whether the vote was based on race or not, the net effect is the same: an exceedingly qualified candidate, who also would have made the court much more reflective of the Circuit, was rejected, leaving Asian-Americans underrepresented despite the obvious accomplishments of Asian-Americans in the legal field.

    The Dems should send direct mail to every Asian-American in the 9th Circuit they can find making this point: that Republicans refused to allow even one Asian-American on their Court of Appeals, even though he was more qualified than most non-Asian nominees would be (and yes, that is true: Liu is considered an up-and-coming rock star in legal academics.)

    I find nothing wrong with what is undeniably a true argument. We don't have to say it was because they were racists. We can still make essentially the same argument.

  • Rasputin22 on May 20, 2011 11:55 AM:

    @slappy and DAY - Of course it's more than hypocrisy. You're right, it's part of a calculated plan to stack the judiciary. I just wish that the powers that be on our side would have the cojones to find and implement an effective way to counter.

  • exlibra on May 20, 2011 3:44 PM:

    It's not that he's an Asian-American. It's not even that he's a law professor (what do the elitists, in their ivory towers, know of the nitty-gritty of the courtroom?). It's that he's the *wrong* Asian-American law professor. If only his name had been Yoo, instead of Liu...