A lot of attention goes into Supreme Court nominations, and that makes perfect sense; they hold as much power in the federal government as Congress. But the nominations in district courts or federal appeals courts have their own importance as well, and on that front, Goodwin Liu finally got his vote and passed out of the Judiciary Committee.

Moments ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12 to 7 along party lines to report the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the floor of the Senate. If confirmed by the entire Senate, Professor Liu would receive a lifetime tenure on the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Unlike Kagan, who has a thin public record and who may have a more centrist profile, if her strategy memos while working on domestic policy in the Clinton Administration are any indication (that’s a manifestly different job, and the policy options with the Gingrich Congress were limited, but it basically shows her simpatico with Bruce Reed), Liu has a robustly liberal record and has not been afraid to be outspoken. He is an example of the kind of judge that a Democratic President should install in the federal judiciary – one who certainly has a point of view, but one who is eminently qualified, and reflects the prerogative of a Democratic President to shape the judiciary in the same way that Republican Presidents have.

Progressives have begun to speak out about the slow movement on judicial nominations. Liu could be an important test case.

“It’s a serious problem,” Marge Baker of People for the American Way agreed, in an interview with TPMmuckraker. “It’s happening to an extent that is abusive.”

But that may not be the whole story. According to one progressive activist, “80 percent of the problem is the GOP, and 20 percent is a Democratic problem.”

Specifically, some observers say the White House was slow off the mark last year in getting nominees into the pipeline. They agree, however, that since Bob Bauer took over as White House counsel in January, the pace has picked up.

But Senate Democrats, progressives argue, haven’t sufficiently prioritized the nominations process, and they haven’t exploited their unusually large majority — all but certain to be smaller next year — to challenge Republican obstructionism as aggressively as the situation demands. Advocates say that because most of the nominees at issue are uncontroversial, if Democrats simply scheduled votes and forced the GOP to filibuster, Republicans would ultimately cave, as they have in the past. “In most cases this is all theater, because when push comes to shove, Republicans join in voting for cloture, and generally speaking, the nominee is confirmed,” Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice told TPMmuckraker.

With the Republican tendency toward obstruction, obviously Liu faces a tough road to confirmation and getting the one GOP Senator necessary to break an expected filibuster. But he’s cleared the first hurdle, after several efforts from the Republicans to delay.