Goodwin Liu’s First Three Months on the California Supreme Court

Goodwin Liu now has been an associate justice of the California Supreme Court for just over three months. And while he has not yet written a majority, dissenting, or concurring opinion, the (very) early returns suggest that the comparisons between Justice Liu and former Chief Justice Rose Bird that circulated at the time of his nomination to the court may have been a tad overstated.

Bird’s tenure as chief justice ended in no small part because of her perceived absolutist stance on the death penalty. Just yesterday, the California Supreme Court reversed two capital convictions, finding that the trial court had improperly discharged a juror. Was this the work of Justice Liu, reviving the spirit of the Bird court? Well, no. The unanimous opinion was authored by Justice Carol Corrigan, a Schwarzenegger appointee.

Meanwhile, just last month the court unanimously affirmed judgments of death in two separate cases. Though neither matter raised particularly complex issues, Justice Liu’s votes in these cases belie suggestions that, if placed in a position to review capital cases, he would “overrule death penalty convictions given any excuse, no matter how far-fetched.”

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3 Responses

  1. I’ll accept that comparisons of Professor Liu to Rose Bird were a bit hyperbolic, but a new justice’s participation in a few unanimous opinions is hardly dispositive of anything, and provides no meaningful indication of how that justice will rule in cases in which his or her vote could make the difference.


  2. Paul Horwitz says:

    I think comparisons of Liu to Bird are more than a bit hyperbolic, and certainly highly premature. But I agree with Jonathan: it’s way too early to say anything about how Goodwin (with whom I worked in private practice, and for whom I have great professional respect) will shape up as a state supreme court justice. Whether the early comparisons between Liu and Bird were overstated or not, I think it’s really too early to conclude anything about whether the comparison will ultimately be overstated or not. That’s not meant to be some kind of harsh criticism: as a blogger, I know that the beast is always demanding to be fed. I just think it’s too early to say anything at all, one way or the other, except perhaps that it is not true that Liu will never, ever vote to affirm a death sentence.

  3. Kyle says:

    @Jonathan and Paul: I don’t disagree with either of you; hence the measured tone of the post. My simple point is that, contrary to what some observers said at the time of his nomination, it appears that Justice Liu won’t reflexively vote to reverse any and all death sentences appealed to the California Supreme Court. This is not to say that he will not compile an otherwise liberal record; time will tell, on that.