Thursday May 19, 2011 | 03:48 PM

Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins were both members of the famous “Gang of 14” group of senators who forged an agreement six years ago not to filibuster any judicial nominee except under “extraordinary circumstances.”

But both Maine Republicans today voted in favor of a GOP filibuster of Goodwin Liu, a University of California=Berkeley law professor who is President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. And both issued long statements to explain why they believe their problems with Liu’s nomination rose to the level of an “extraordinary circumstance” justifying a partisan filibuster.

Liu’s nomination has been blocked by Republicans who claim his views are too liberal to join the appellate bench, with Republicans also noting Liu’s vehement opposition to the Supreme Court nomination by President George W. Bush of now Justice Samuel Alito.
 
The Gang of 14 deal was characterized at the time by the Washington Post as an agreement that a “nominees philosophical views cannot amount to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and that therefore a filibuster’ can be justified only on questions of personal ethics or character.”
 
Earlier this month, Collins and Snowe were part of a group of 11 Republicans who voted to end a GOP filibuster – allowing Democrats to win the procedural motion 63-33, with three more votes than needed - and bring to a final vote the nomination of another of Obama’s federal district court nominees, John McConnell of Rhode Island.
 
GOP leaders tried to block McConnell’s nomination, the Associated Press reported, because of the trial lawyer’s work on legal cases against businesses, and claimed McConnell was disingenuous in his Senate confirmation hearing testimony. The subsequent vote to confirm McConnell was 50-44, along party lines, with both Collins and Snowe voting against his nomination
 
But today, Snowe and Collins joined a nearly unanimous group of Republicans voting for the successful filibuster of Liu’s nomination. The 52 votes in favor of ending the filibuster fell far short of the required 60.
 
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the only Republican to join 51 Democrats in voting against the filibuster and in favor of bringing Liu’s nomination to the floor for a final confirmation vote. Three other GOP senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, David Vitter of Louisiana and Jerry Moran of Kansas, did not vote, while Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voted “present.” Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana also did not vote.
 
Snowe called her vote in favor of the filibuster “a very difficult decision. I had the opportunity to meet with the nominee, who is clearly intelligent, well-educated, and intellectually gifted.”
 
But Snowe said that she believes a nominee’s record and the position for which he is being nominated should both be considered as part of the confirmation process – and that she decided Liu could not bring the needed judicial objectivity to a lifetime appointment to the appellate bench.
 
“It is also critical to measure any nominee against the fundamental tenet of American justice that whoever appears before a court must have a reasonable expectation of an objective review of the facts and circumstances of any given case,” Snowe said in a statement after the vote.
“While the nominee is obviously exceptionally talented with a keen legal mind, after an exhaustive examination, regrettably I find that the nominee’s record reveals a depth and breadth of writings and statements -- including testimony during the Judiciary Committee nomination hearing for Justice Samuel Alito – that, for me, raise serious and insurmountable concerns about the nominee’s ability to transition to a judicial appointment that requires objectivity,” Snowe said.  
 
For her part, Collins said that, "There is much to respect, admire, and like about Goodwin Liu, but his activist judicial philosophy precludes me from supporting him for a lifetime appointment on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals."
 
Collins likened her reasoning on the Liu nomination to what she said was the analysis that Liu himself used in arguing against Alito’s confirmation to the High Court.
 
“Mr. Liu testified that Judge Alito ‘has an exceptionally talented legal mind.  He clearly possesses the intellectual abilities required for appointment….’” Collins said in a statement after her vote. “I have reached the same conclusion about Mr. Liu’s intellectual prowess.  Without a doubt, he is a brilliant legal scholar. But Mr. Liu goes on to conclude that Judge Alito ‘is at the margin of the judicial spectrum, not the mainstream,’ and urges his rejection.  While I disagree with Mr. Liu’s assessment of Judge Alito, he accurately describes his own judicial philosophy,” Collins added.
 
“By any fair assessment, it is Mr. Liu’s views that are far outside the mainstream,” Collins said. “His writings demonstrate what National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor calls his ‘sweeping vision of court-ordered social justice.’”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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