In February of this year, President Obama nominated Goodwin Liu, Associate Dean and a professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law, to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Liu’s nomination has generated controversy because of his strongly liberal views. Even before launching his career in law, however, Liu attended Stanford University where he received a degree in biology and served as a member of the Council of Presidents.
After Stanford, Liu attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship where he received a degree in philosophy and physiology. After that, Liu returned to the United States, working in a private firm and clerking for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Goodwin Liu’s Stanford story has received little attention in the national news media. Liu was known at Stanford for serving as a member of the Council of Presidents (the ASSU executive branch was comprised of a slate of four people who were called the Council of Presidents) during the 1990-1991 school year.
ASSU politics of the early 1990s were dominated by a party system. Though the People’s Platform dominated politics, a second party, the Students First party, also appeared on the campus political scene. Liu ran for the Council of Presidents with the People’s Platform.
The People’s Platform, supported by ethnic campus groups, especially emphasized multiculturalism. Stanford Daily reporter Chris Roblyer wrote in 1990, “Multiculturalism has been, and will continue to be, one of the principle issues for the People’s Platform.” Additionally, as printed in The Stanford Review in 1990, the party called for affirmative action policies, a “de-corporatized” campus, and a more ethnically diverse staff.
The party also stated through their platform, “We oppose military research at Stanford,” and called for “a complete divorce of the University from [the] Hoover [Institution].” The People’s Platform narrowly won the election with 50.87% over the vote, but their win would not be secured for many more weeks.
Several students cast votes for write-in candidates who did not actually exist. Among the non-existent slates receiving those write-in votes were “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Bart Simpson.” When the 275 write-in votes were added to the vote total, neither party earned the majority of votes required by the ASSU bylaws.
Elections Commissioner Steve Krauss decided to invalidate the ineligible votes. The ASSU bylaws were ambiguous as to whether votes cast for ineligible candidates should count toward the vote total used to determine the majority.
The Students First party called for a run-off because they believed that the write-in votes, though cast for ineligible candidates, were still votes against the other two parties. But, as Liu argued in The Stanford Daily, “The Student’s First Slate is trying to ‘subvert’ the election through technicalities.” Liu and the People’s Platform agreed with Elections Commissioner Steve Krauss that the write-in votes were ineligible because they were for slates that never signed declarations of intent.
The ASSU Senate confirmed the Election Commissioner’s decision to discount the write-in votes. But a Stanford Daily poll revealed that over 67% of the student body thought the write-in votes should count.
When the ASSU came under fire for debating and passing resolutions about off-campus issues – specifically in opposition to the use of force in the First Gulf War – Liu twice wrote opinion pieces for The Stanford Daily defending the ASSU’s actions. He wrote, “The majority of Stanford students care about issues beyond Stanford as is indicated by their involvement in public service, community empowerment and activism on political and social issues on and off campus.”
Much of Liu’s time in office was spent serving the community. He was nominated to organize the You Can Make a Difference Conference, which centered on education. He told the Daily beforehand, “The conference provided invaluable leadership experience and helped to teach me exactly what inclusiveness means.” Liu also helped the Council of Presidents organize the Culture Fest in the spring of 1991, which Liu said brought “all the diversity here together in one place at a time.”
Because of his service, Liu was awarded the James W. Lyons Award for Service in March 1991. He was given the award because of his “devotion to multiculturalism and public service.”
Some students were discontent with the performance of the Council of Presidents. One of the leaders of the Students First Party called for a less militant version of the ASSU. In an editorial, students John Overdeck and Betty Sandoval decried the Council of Presidents for not having ever examined the inefficiencies in the ASSU budget and for its general lack of responsiveness to student opinion, among other things.
The 1991 election saw even The Stanford Daily, normally ardent People’s Platform supporters, endorsing the Students First party that would eventually win.
Liu’s actions at Stanford will likely have little effect on his Senate confirmation hearings. Former Haas Center Director Catherine Milton told The Stanford Daily’s Elizabeth Rosen, “He does have the right ‘judicial’ temperament, so this seems like a good way for him to use his talents.”
“I have no doubt that he will present himself very well during Senate confirmation hearings,” said one of Liu’ fellow students and Review writer Eric Krock ’92. “Goodwin Liu had strong left wing political views, but even as a college student, he was very smooth in how he presented himself.”
Liu’s confirmation hearings began on April 16.