A Conversation with Justice Goodwin Liu
In October, Stanford in Government had the privilege of hosting the Honorable Justice Goodwin Liu of the California Supreme Court for a fireside chat.
The event began with a reception during which Justice Liu interacted with students. He diligently answered student questions while sharing some of his own memories of his time at Stanford. Soon after, the moderated portion of the event began. SIG’s Director of Special Events, Avinash Thakkar (‘25), moderated the discussion along with California Policy Forum’s Kyle Juan Becerra (‘24).
The discussion commenced with Justice Liu’s undergraduate and graduate studies. While an undergraduate at Stanford, Justice Liu studied biology with the hopes of pursuing a medical education in the future. He later studied philosophy and physiology at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where his passion soon turned towards the field of law. He was moved by the level of impact that the tools of law could provide and sought to return to the U.S. to pursue a legal education. Hence, he obtained his law degree from Yale and, upon graduation, clerked for Judge David Taitel of the D.C. Circuit and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Liu, then, answered questions about his career trajectory. One of his defining contributions to government was his leadership in launching AmeriCorps, a government agency that connects millions of Americans to service opportunities. Justice Liu’s passion for education was furthered when he served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Education. His experience working directly with education policies and their implementation served as a core pillar to his later work as an academic.
The conversation turned towards his work as Professor of Law and Associate Dean of the U.C. Berkeley School of Law. One of his key research areas was public education systems and the mechanisms by which they are funded. He also worked extensively on the topic of education opportunity, equity, and inclusion, with his article “Education, Equality, and National Citizenship” winning the Steven S. Goldberg Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Education Law from the Education Law Association. During the SIG event, Justice Liu discussed the potential ramifications of the recent Supreme Court ruling on the usage of affirmative action within higher education.
Justice Liu, then, reflected on his continuing tenure as a justice of the California Supreme Court. He discussed the critical role that our nation’s institutions play in safeguarding our core values. Despite musing upon the nature of justice as a concept, he grounded the discussion in his personal experiences: from discussing the symbolism of “The Wall” at Yale Law School to narrating his pursuit of a legal career as the son of Taiwanese-American immigrants at a time when the profession was not greatly diverse.
Finally, Justice Liu fielded questions from the audience. His willingness to answer students’ questions in a thorough, detail-oriented way was appreciated greatly by everyone. Above all, his discussion generated moments of reflection and inspiration for the audience as many students sought to similarly pursue the path of service; they were grateful to have a distinguished alumnus as a model for such a path.