Senate Democrats on Thursday failed to move to a final vote on the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a first for a Barack Obama judicial nominee, providing both Democrats and Republicans with ammunition heading toward the 2012 election.
The chamber was unable to invoke cloture on the nomination, which would have limited debate to 30 hours and put him one step away from confirmation.
Approval of the cloture motion required the support of 60 senators. The vote was 52-43.
In the past, Democrats have chosen not to bring Obama judicial nominations to the floor unless they were certain they had the votes.
The battle over the nomination has become particularly high-profile, as Republicans attempted to paint Liu as an activist and out of the mainstream, while Democrats saw him as a brilliant legal scholar. Liu attempted to gain support this week, making the rounds of senators’ offices.
Republicans have held up his nomination over concerns that he would move the San Francisco-based court, widely considered as the most liberal of the federal circuits, further to the left.
They also expressed worries about highly critical comments Liu made about Samuel Alito during Alito’s Supreme Court nomination hearing in 2006. Liu later apologized for the remarks. He said in a hearing this month that his comments were “unduly harsh.”
Among the Republicans voting against cloture were Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Olympia Snowe of Maine, members of the “Gang of 14,” which reached a deal on judicial filibusters in 2005. They agreed in 2005 that only an “extraordinary” reason should prevent a judicial nominee from getting a confirmation vote.
“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,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement. “Professor Liu deserved better treatment than the Senate has allowed. All Americans suffer from this filibuster.”
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Senate Judiciary Committee Republican, said Liu is “far from a consensus nominee.”
“It’s now time for the President to send to Capitol Hill a consensus nominee that the members of the Senate can agree on, instead of insisting on moving forward with controversial nominees that are completely out of the mainstream of America,” Grassley said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is hoping Republican resistance to Liu can help Democrats as they head into the 2012 election, according to CQ-Roll Call. The inability to get a confirmation vote on Liu could put millions of dollars in Democratic campaign coffers as they decry Republican opposition to him in fundraising letters, the news organization said.
This story has been updated.