Friday, August 27, 2010

Another First For California

And this one isn't even weird. The Judicial Commission has just unanimously approved Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's choice to sit as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, replacing retiring C.J. Ronald George. George was known as a moderate with strong traditional Constitutional respect for the rule of law. His replacement is not expected to be much of a change.

In case you're wondering, the picture is the Earl Warren Supreme Court/1st California Appellate District courthouse located in San Francisco. Like almost everything else, California does things somewhat differently. The Supreme Court building in the state capital at Sacramento is currently under reconstruction. But even when the building is functioning fully, most of the court's work is done in San Francisco, with occasional forays to Los Angeles.

Now to the appointee, who is expected to win easy approval of the voters in November to start her twelve-year term on January 3. Her name is Tani Cantil-Sakauye. She is the daughter of immigrant farm workers, and will be the first minority (Filipina) Chief Justice. She would also be the second female Chief Justice. From my point of view, she should be considered the first female Chief Justice appointed on her legal merits rather than a leftist political hack like former Chief Justice Rose Bird, who was appointed by Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown, and removed from office by the voters after a string of horrendous activist decisions.

There is another first involved as well. With her elevation, Cantil-Sakauye will create the first female majority Supreme Court in California history. Her story is inspiring and her career is notable. She was a self-starter from early in life, and excelled all the way through her education. She graduated with honors from the University of California at Davis law school. She then went on to become a county prosecutor for three years, moving on to two years on the legislative staff of Governor George Deukmejian, who subsequently appointed her to the municipal court bench.

Cantil-Sakauye was later elevated to the superior court bench, and in 2005 was appointed by Schwarzenegger to the California Court of Appeal. Her decisions have been reasoned and thoughtful, following precedent and the rule of law. Her history as a prosecutor indicates that she is not going to find mysterious umbras, penumbras and emanations from the State and US Constitution to exonerate dangerous felons, expand government intrusion, or advance radical gender, economic or ecological agendas. She has a sense of public duty, and once took a week off the bench to serve on a jury in 2003 (I'm still trying to look into what kind of attorneys don't challenge a judge for jury duty, but that's a whole other story). Her compassion for victims is clear. After sentencing a murder defendant to life without parole, she later came out of her chambers and sat with the victim's relatives, holding the mother's hand.

I know most of you are not used to me using the word "moderate" as a compliment, but it has an entirely different meaning in the judicial realm from that of the political realm. It means her track record is one that doesn't indicate a future activism on either side of the political spectrum. She won't write her own law if she doesn't like the law the legislature and the governor or the people have written. She has a prosecutor's eye and a judicial temperament. The worst criticism of her came from one Sacramento deputy attorney general who claims Cantil-Sakauye has exhibited a "gender-biased perspective" in domestic violence cases.

The nominee also demonstrated that she knows when to express her opinion, and when not to. It was inevitable that when she was asked about her predecessor's opinion striking California's first traditional marriage initiative, she was smart enough to reply that a similar issue (Prop 8) might very well be returned to the California courts after a Supreme Court decision, and she should not prejudge the outcome. Unlike Sonia Sotomayor, Cantil-Sakauye, addressed her gender as follows: "Either as a woman, a Filipina, a mother, a 50-year-old woman in this society--that always has an influence on how I see the facts, but not on how I apply the law." Her record tends to indicate that she means what she says.

Though she has never ruled on a death penalty appeal (those go directly to the State Supreme Court without an intermediate court first hearing the appeal), she has appeared to come down on the side of law and order, made no public comments on her views on the death penalty, and applies the law whether she likes it or not. That is about as much as any reasonable person can ask of a high court nominee. She would be very unlikely to take a new tack putting California back in the leftist camp of the Jerry Brown/Gray Davis era. California's Supreme Court has a far better reputation than the politicians in the other two branches. In fact, this nominee has a far better reputation than the governor who appointed her.

Compared to Obama's appointment of Red Sonia Sotomayor and "Kick ROTC Out of the Schools" Kagan, this appointment is positively brilliant. Proof that even Schwarzenegger isn't all bad. Cantil-Sakauye is young in judicial terms, and if she does a good job, perhaps will move on to the US Supreme Court some day, once we're rid of the con artist in the White House claiming to be a Con law expert.


AndrewPrice said...

She sounds decent. I wish you luck though, because if history has taught us anything, it's that California judges drop a lot of acid. . . or there's something horrible in the air out there that makes them all insane. Are the drinking cups made of lead?

In any event, she couldn't be worse that Rose Bird!

Tennessee Jed said...

Nice article, Hawk. When it comes to Kah-lee-fourn-e-yah, moderate is a good thing. I agree with Andrew, she sounds decent. Nice building, btw. I assume her surname is pronounced like the salmon.

rlaWTX said...

totally unrelated question...

in the whole discussion of removing the church and having civil couples' contracts instead of / in addition to church marriage... would that mean we could return to the idea of suing one's partner for breaking the contract (adultery, alienation of affection, etc)? Just popped in my head, so I thought I'd ask the learned folks I know. :-)

Unknown said...

Andrew: I think you might be surprised how intelligent the California Supreme Court pre-Bird and post-Bird has been. The problem for the moderate/conservative California court is that it is constantly interfered with by the Ninth Circuit Federal Court. Urban State judges tend to be leftist/activist, but there are many courts which are not. In fact, if anything, the Ventura courts where I began practice are even more strict constructionist than I am (if such a thing is possible). LOL

And nothing could be worse than Rose Bird. She made Ruth Bader Ginsburg look like a reactionary.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: The classic style building you see is the court. The curved area above it is the California State Building which is right next to the court and city hall. The best way I can describe that building is it looks like the saucer section of the Starship Enterprise.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: One other thing I forgot. I don't have a clue how to pronounce her name. I've already heard three different local newscasts pronounce it three different ways. The salmon version is as good as any so far.

Unknown said...

rlaWTX: That is an extremely intelligent question, and one lawyers will be wrestling with for years to come. Every time the legislature rewrites what we used to call "domestic law" and now call "family law," things get more complicated. We'll probably just have to wait to see what the US Supreme Court does with the gay marriage issue, then find out how the legislature will screw everything up.

Unfortunately, legislatures have a strong tendency to "fix" the problem in front of them without thinking of the doctrine of unintended consequences. We have a decade of very interesting legislation and adjudication ahead of us just on this one issue.

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