In First Judicial Setback For Obama, Liu Nomination Blocked by Senate Republicans' Filibuster

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

Senate Republicans today blocked the nomination of California-Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the first time one of President Obama’s judicial nominees has gone down to defeat.

Liu needed 60 votes today to break through the GOP filibuster and advance to a final up-or-down vote, but he only got 52 votes, with 43 votes against.

The vote was largely along party lines, with only a few exceptions: Nebraska’s Ben Nelson split with his fellow Democrats to vote against Liu, while Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski voted for Liu.

Utah Republican Orrin Hatch voted present, while four senators did not vote at all: David Vitter, R-Louisiana; Jerry Moran, R-Kansas; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; and Max Baucus, D-Montana.

In the build-up to the vote, Republican leaders had called on their party to close ranks in opposition to Liu. They argued that his record on divisive social issues showed that his judicial thinking was outside the mainstream.

Years ago a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of 14 agreed that judicial nominees should only be blocked in the event of “extraordinary circumstances,” but Republicans argued that Liu’s nomination fell into that category.

“The extraordinary circumstances are clear – he’s never tried a case, he’s very inexperienced, very liberal progressive activist lawyer who believes in a vision of the role of a judge that’s contrary to the great American heritage that a judge is an independent adjudicator of disputes and is not one that is—allows their personal political views to be part of their decision making process,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, a top member of the Judiciary Committee, told ABC’s “Top Line” on Tuesday. “He’s the most activist nominee I think we’ve seen by far.”

Across the aisle, Liu's supporters claimed the GOP was merely scared that if Liu was confirmed to the Ninth Circuit, then he could eventually be appointed to the Supreme Court, where he would become the first Asian American nominee.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary panel, said today’s GOP blockade was the most disappointing Republican filibuster in over a decade.

“The partisan filibuster of Goodwin Liu’s nomination is another example of Republicans’ shifting standards on judicial nominations,” Leahy said. “I have not been this disappointed in a vote on a judicial nomination since Senate Republicans voted in lock step to reject Missouri Justice Ronnie White in 1999. Professor Liu deserved better treatment than the Senate has allowed. All Americans suffer from this filibuster.”

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