Los Angeles Times

No new term for the state’s chief justice

Cantil-Sakauye won’t seek reelection. Newsom could make the body more liberal.

- By Kevin Rector

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will not seek reelection to the state’s Supreme Court after her term concludes next year, she confirmed Wednesday.

Cantil-Sakauye’s departure will mean a third appointmen­t to the state’s high court for Gov. Gavin Newsom if he wins reelection in November. Newsom, a Democrat, has positioned California as a liberal foil to other, more conservati­ve states and to the newly dominant conservati­ve majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a statement, Newsom praised Cantil-Sakauye, saying she “steered our state’s courts through times of great challenge and opportunit­y, championin­g important reforms to make our justice system fairer and more transparen­t, and expanding equal access to justice for all California­ns.”

He called her a “fierce defender of access to the courts,” including during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “a leading voice for bail reform, calling out its disproport­ionate impacts on low-income people.”

Cantil-Sakauye, the first person of color and the second woman to serve as chief, said she told the governor during a brief conversati­on Wednesday that she would help make sure her replacemen­t had a “smooth transition.”

She said she had informed her fellow justices, who responded with “moans and groans and exclamatio­ns of concern and dismay and congratula­tions.”

Cantil-Sakauye said leaving was “not an easy decision” but was the right one now because the court is in a “solid, sustainabl­e place” and has a smart, collegial set of justices committed to the rule of law and California’s future.

Cantil-Sakauye’s term ends Jan. 1, when she will be 63 years old. She said she doesn’t know what is next for her, but doesn’t plan on going into politics — or retiring completely.

“My husband said, ‘You’ve got to do something,’ ” she said with a smile during a Wednesday morning video call with reporters.

Under Cantil-Sakauye,

the seven justices on the court have routinely been in agreement on decisions that reflect the court’s general left-of-center orientatio­n. Now, Newsom faces a choice between maintainin­g the status quo or appointing a more liberal chief justice who could pull the court further to the left, legal analysts said.

“In recent years the California Supreme Court has coalesced into a group of moderate justices who decide nearly 90% of their cases unanimousl­y, and Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s retirement may be an inflection point for that dynamic,” said David A. Carrillo, executive director of Berkeley Law’s California Constituti­on Center, in a statement to The Times. “So one factor in choosing a new Chief Justice is how likely that person is to continue the court’s current consensus culture.”

Newsom could elevate one of the court’s associate justices to chief and name a new associate justice, or appoint a newcomer directly to the chief ’s position.

Newsom’s office did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment on whether he has specific candidates in mind to replace Cantil-Sakauye.

California’s Supreme Court justices are selected by the governor to serve 12year terms but must be confirmed by a state judicial commission and then by voters. To be eligible, candidates must have been a member of the State Bar of California or a judge in a California court for at least 10 years.

In addition to hearing cases alongside six associate justices, the chief justice is the administra­tive leader of the high court and chairs the Judicial Council of California, which sets administra­tive policy for all state courts.

Cantil-Sakauye said Newsom “will have a diverse pool of exceptiona­lly wellqualif­ied jurists and legal profession­als to choose from, and I believe the judiciary, the courts and access to justice in California will be in good hands.”

She said she would be happy to provide Newsom with a short list of judges who she believes would do well in her role, but only if the governor asked for one.

“Responding with a list is more impactful when someone asks,” she said.

She declined to name anyone she would put on that list.

Cantil-Sakauye has been viewed by legal analysts as centrist on civil matters but more conservati­ve on criminal law. Her term was defined in part by a liberaliza­tion of the court as older, more conservati­ve justices retired and were replaced by judges appointed by Newsom and his predecesso­r, Gov. Jerry Brown, also a Democrat.

Cantil-Sakauye also had to navigate budget cuts and the pandemic, which closed state courts for a time, necessitat­ed more virtual proceeding­s and demanded an entirely new system of safety protocols.

Cantil-Sakauye captured national attention in 2017 when she called on the Trump administra­tion to remove federal immigratio­n agents from California’s state courthouse­s, where she said they were “stalking ” people in ways that could erode public trust in the state courts.

“Courthouse­s should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcemen­t of our country’s immigratio­n laws,” she wrote to thenAtty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.

She also oversaw the state’s highest court at a time when criminal justice was under intense scrutiny and the state passed a number of liberal reforms. Asked about that Wednesday, and whether she sees the pendulum reversing amid rising crime concerns, CantilSaka­uye said that is a question for policymake­rs, not judges.

“I feel that the reforms are from the people and our decision makers and by initiative, and I don’t presume to know better than how they think about this reform,” she said.

She also said, however, that she has “watched with interest the reformatio­n of the justice system and the sentencing laws and the treatment of juveniles, and I think California is moving in the right direction.”

Cantil-Sakauye was sworn in as the state’s 28th chief justice in January 2011 after being selected for the role by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzene­gger, a Republican, confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointmen­ts and winning a general election for the seat in 2010.

She was born in Sacramento in 1959, served as a prosecutor for Sacramento County and worked for former Gov. George Deukmejian as deputy legal affairs secretary and deputy legislativ­e secretary.

Before her appointmen­t to the Supreme Court, Cantil-Sakauye was a judge on a Sacramento appeals court.

When Newsom replaces Cantil-Sakauye, he and Brown each will have appointed three members of the current court. The seventh justice, Carol Corrigan, was appointed by Schwarzene­gger.

Carrillo wrote in an online post Wednesday that Cantil-Sakauye “leaves California’s courts in a far better state than when she arrived in 2011,” when the judicial branch’s budget had taken a blow in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Since then, she has “secured substantia­l funding increases” and “pursued initiative­s to expand remote court access during the coronaviru­s pandemic,” Carrillo wrote.

He said Cantil-Sakauye also “arguably leaves office at the peak of her influence” and credited her with “reversing a long trend of close vote splits and rancorous dissents.”

Regardless of who replaces Cantil-Sakauye, the state’s high court could find itself squaring off with increasing frequency with the more conservati­ve U.S. Supreme Court on areas of the law that cross federal and state boundaries — such as labor, arbitratio­n and the environmen­t.

 ?? Rich Pedroncell­i CHIEF JUSTICE AP ?? Tani Cantil-Sakauye has led a left-of-center court.
Rich Pedroncell­i CHIEF JUSTICE AP Tani Cantil-Sakauye has led a left-of-center court.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States