Bench Memos

Goodwin Liu on Reparations for Slavery

In May 2008, Ninth Circuit nominee Goodwin Liu took part in a discussion of the documentary film Traces of the Trade, which explores the role of New Englanders in the slave trade.  Liu lists the event in his questionnaire response, but doesn’t link to any video or transcript (or any other account of his remarks).*

Blogger Morgen of Verum Serum has dug up a video of the event and posted a striking two-minute video excerpt, which I encourage you to watch.  Here’s a transcript of Liu’s remarks (with some asides deleted):

Then there’s a further issue, which is that maybe there are white families who were not involved as directly or even indirectly with the slave trade, but who still benefited from it. And then there is the whole question, which you put on the table, about people who came to America after, and, you know, like my family. And why is it that this movie speaks to me so deeply yet?

And so, what I would do, I think I would draw a distinction between a concept of guilt, which locates accountability in a sort of limited set of wrong-doers, and, on the other hand, a concept of responsibility, which is, I think, a more broad suggestion that all of us, whatever our lineage, whatever our ancestry, whatever our complicity, still have a moral duty to … make things right. And that’s a moral duty that’s incumbent upon everybody who inherits this nation, regardless of whatever the history is.

And I think, to add one more point on top of that, the exercise of that responsibility … necessarily requires the answer to the question, “What are we willing to give up to make things right?” Because it’s gonna require us to give up something, whether it is the seat at Harvard, the seat at Princeton.  Or is it gonna require us to give up our segregated neighborhoods, our segregated schools?  Is it gonna require us to give up our money?

It’s gonna require giving up something, and so until we can have that further conversation of what it is we’re willing to give up, I agree that the reconciliation can’t fully occur.

Let’s expose the game that Liu is playing.  Just as Liu completely ignores the innocent victims of racial preferences when he urges the perpetual imposition of racial quotas as a remedy for “societal discrimination,” so he would make those who were not complicit in slavery pay the price of his grandiose reparations project.  Moreover, he continues to use the term “segregated” so expansively that only the imposition of racial quotas will achieve the elimination of what he calls segregation. 

Even worse, Liu, far from making any sacrifice himself (he didn’t give up his seats at Stanford and at Yale Law School, or his Rhodes Scholarship, or his clerkship with Justice Ginsburg, or his professorship at Berkeley), is making a career out of benefiting from his grievance-mongering.  It’s precisely his hard-edged ideology that has made him a darling of the Left and that explains why he is being nominated to a judicial seat that he craves as a steppingstone to the Supreme Court.

* Correction per this post.

Most Popular


George Packer Gets Mugged by Reality

Few journalists are as respected by, and respectable to, liberals as The Atlantic’s George Packer. The author of The Assassin's Gate (2005), The Unwinding (2013), and a recently published biography of Richard Holbrooke, Our Man, Packer has written for bastions of liberal thought from the New York Times Magazine ... Read More
Politics & Policy

CNN: Everything but the News

For a while, we thought MSNBC had temporarily usurped CNN as the font of fake news — although both networks had tied for the most negative coverage (93 percent of all their news reports) of President Trump’s first 100 days in office. A cynic would argue that CNN had deliberately given Trump undue coverage ... Read More