California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George to Step Down?

The twittersphere is abuzz with the news that California Supreme Court Justice Ron George will step down at the end of his term on January 2 of 2011.  The author of the landmark In re Marriage Cases, that struck down Prop 22’s ban of same-sex marriage and Strauss v Horton, which upheld Prop 8, was always somethiing of a riddle.  Socially moderate, but always something of a friend to corporations, George wrote many of the big decisions over the last 14 years.

Now, the process for his replacement is kind of weird.  It’s codified in Article 6, Section 16 of the California Constitution, but here’s the short version

  1. If a justice wants to run again, he or she has to file by August 16 in the year prior to their term’s expiration. If they file, they just appear as a Yes/No question on the ballot.
  2. If they do not file, the Governor appoints a nominee by September 16. Only this candidate can appear on the ballot.
  3. If that candidate does not win the Yes/No election, the Governor appoints a judge that will serve until the next general election (subject to Confirmation by the Commission on Judicial Appointments)

Now, it is unlikely that any judge Arnold appoints would be that controversial. At this point, the last thing he wants out of a judge is controversy, what with the AB32 repeal also appearing on the ballot.  Furthermore, Arnold doesn’t seem to have much love for either candidate for governor, so he wouldn’t really like to see them get the appointment gift-wrapped on the date of their inauguration.

It’s not clear who exactly would get to appoint the nominee if the election goes “No.” But, again, odds are pretty stacked against that scenario.

As for George, well, he made a mistake on Strauss v Horton, and what would have been his crowning legacy, marriage equality, will be left to either the electorate or some other jurist. In the end, he’ll go down as a pretty decent justice who fit his time, and fit the governor (Wilson) who appointed him. The appointment makes it clear just how important it is that we take back the governor’s seat.

UPDATE by Robert: Here’s Ron George’s statement on his retirement.