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Harry Hamburg, Associated Press
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., with judicial nominee Goodwin Liu, and Sens. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Daniel Inouye, D-Hi., on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, May 18, 2011.

WASHINGTON — Liberal law professor Goodwin Liu could become the first Obama administration judicial nominee defeated by the Senate when Democrats try to end a Republican filibuster.

The Senate has scheduled a vote Thursday to end debate on Liu's nomination for the California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Senate aides from both parties said Wednesday that Democrats do not appear to be picking up the Republican votes needed to reach 60 — the super-majority needed in the 100-member Senate to end delaying tactics.

The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss vote counts.

Both parties have made Liu a test case because he's the type of ideological liberal that progressives want on the bench — and conservatives want to portray as a poster child for judicial activism.

The University of California, Berkeley, law professor is considered by both sides to be a brilliant legal scholar who, at 40, is young enough to be a future Supreme Court nominee. That's one explanation of why liberals have lobbied hard for his confirmation and Republicans have fought vigorously for his defeat.

Democrats have 53 votes in the Senate, including two independents who often vote with them. The Associated Press contacted the offices of 11 Republicans who recently supported ending a filibuster on a contentious district court nominee. None at this point said they would vote to end the filibuster on Liu.

One of them, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, had in the past been part of a group of 14 senators who pledged not to filibuster judicial nominees except under extraordinary circumstances.

His office issued a statement saying, "The nomination of Mr. Goodwin Liu does rise to a level of extraordinary circumstances, and therefore McCain will seek to filibuster the nomination."

Liu visited with senators Wednesday, accompanied by White House Counsel Bob Bauer.

A number of Obama administration judicial nominees for district and appellate courts have generated Republican opposition, and Democrats did not force a vote unless they believed they could end a filibuster. In Liu's case, they decided to take their chances despite the long odds.

Republicans and conservatives object to Liu's strong advocacy of affirmative action to achieve racial diversity, his support of gay marriage and comments in an interview after Barack Obama's election. He said then that liberals "have the opportunity to actually get our ideas and the progressive vision of the Constitution and of law and policy into practice."

The opponents also are angry that Liu attacked the nominations of John Roberts, now the nation's chief justice, and Justice Samuel Alito.

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Liu told the Senate Judiciary Committee that "whatever I may have written in the books and the articles would have no bearing on my action as a judge."

He was given a top rating of unanimously well qualified by the American Bar Association.

Democrats have cited Liu's sterling academic credentials. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, a Rhodes Scholar and a graduate of Yale Law School.

He clerked for a federal appeals judge and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

He received numerous awards for academic and legal achievements, including the highest teaching award at the University of California's law school.