The Obama administration's most contentious judicial nomination yet faces a key test vote in the Senate on Thursday, with Republicans poised to block the nomination of Goodwin Liu on grounds he is a liberal activist who would play fast and loose with the Constitution from the bench.
Democrats counter that the University of California at Berkeley law professor, whom President Obama nominated for a spot on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has been unfairly demonized by the political right and add that he has received support from several prominent conservatives off Capitol Hill.
The partisan battle could hand Mr. Obama a high-profile judicial defeat and end his perfect streak of judicial nominees clearing the Senate for confirmation in 2011.
"Mr. Liu holds a view of the Constitution that can only be described as an activist judicial philosophy," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "His philosophy leads to an inevitable expansion of the power of the judiciary."
Many conservatives balk at Mr. Liu's past involvement with the progressive American Constitution Society and the American Civil Liberties Union. And they have complained about his statements suggesting support of affirmative action and gay marriage as individual rights.
Mr. Liu's lack of judicial experience - the 40-year-old professor has never served as a trial lawyer or judge - also has been the focus of criticism. Conservatives also have attacked many of his academic writings and called his public words against the confirmations of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as tendentious and misleading.
On Tuesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, used a parliamentary tactic called a cloture motion in an attempt to overcome GOP resistance. The move sets up a procedural vote that will require the support of at least 60 senators before the nomination can proceed toward a final vote.
With the Senate's two independents, Democrats control 53 of the chamber's 100 seats.
At least seven Republicans, therefore, must vote against their party line on the Liu nomination - which none did in committee.
Democrats and the White House have pushed hard on behalf of Mr. Liu, who met privately Wednesday with several Senate Democrats at the Capitol.
The professor and Mr. Reid emerged from the meeting smiling but didn't take reporters' questions, though the senator warned Republicans that "it would be the wrong thing to do" to block Mr. Liu's confirmation.
"He's a good man," Mr. Reid added.
Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat, said he was "shocked" and "concerned" about the Republican-led attacks on Mr. Liu.
"Professor Liu knows the difference between lecturing and judging," Mr. Coons said. "He knows that the role of a judge is not to advocate, but to follow the Constitution and the precedents of the Supreme Court."
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday said Mr. Liu has "exceptional credentials and mainstream views" who "should absolutely get the up or down vote he deserves."
The president tapped Mr. Liu more than a year ago to fill a vacancy on the 9th Circuit, which includes California and much of the rest of the West. His nomination stalled in the Senate amid Republican opposition, and Mr. Obama renominated him for the post in January.
The Senate Judiciary Committee in April voted 10-8, entirely along party lines, to send Mr. Liu's nomination to the full Senate.
All 24 judicial nominations sent to the full Senate this year have been confirmed. The tally includes 21 district and three Circuit Court nominees.
The Liu debate extends far beyond Capitol Hill, as liberal, ethnic-minority and conservative groups see the nomination fight as a crucial test of the president's ability to put his stamp on the nation's judiciary.
"As much as I know some conservatives have enjoyed using him to raise money, he's really not the wild progressive that they're trying to make him out to be," said Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center.
Ms. Narasaki added Republicans risk retribution at the polls from Asian-Americans if they oppose Mr. Liu, who was born in Augusta, Ga., of parents who immigrated from Taiwan.
"It's going to be seen in the next election as an indication the party is actually not supportive of the Asian-American community," she said. "This has more visibility across the country in the Asian-American community than any nominee I've seen, and I've been in Washington for 20 years."
But Curt Levey, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice, has called Mr. Liu "the worst of Obama's nominees at all levels of the federal courts."
Mr. Liu has attracted some support outside Democratic circles, including from Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel during President Clinton's Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals.
Richard Painter, who served as counsel to President George W. Bush, also has spoken favorably of the professor.
"In short, Goodwin is a person of great intellect, accomplishment and integrity, and he is exceptionally well-qualified to serve on the court of appeals," Mr. Starr said in a joint letter written in 2010 with Akhil Reed Amar, a Yale Law School professor, to the party leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"The nation is fortunate that he is willing to leave academia to engage in this important form of public service."
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