Schwarzenegger Nominates Tani Cantil-Sakauye as Supreme Court Chief Justice

With Chief Justice Ron George announcing his retirement, Arnold Schwarzenegger got the chance to nominate a new chief justice for the California Supreme Court. Today we learned who his pick is: Tani Cantil-Sakauye, currently a judge on the 3rd California Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to name 3rd District Court of Appeal Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye as the next chief justice, making her the first Asian American to lead the state’s judiciary and giving the California Supreme Court a female majority for the first time in its history.

Cantil-Sakauye, 50, a Sacramento native who rose through the trial courts, served as deputy legislative secretary and deputy legal affairs secretary under former Gov. George Deukmejian. He plucked her from the Sacramento district attorney’s office and later appointed her to the Sacramento Municipal Court.

Former Gov. Pete Wilson elevated Cantil-Sakauye to the Sacramento County Superior Court, and Schwarzenegger named her to the Court of Appeal in Sacramento.

The LA Times calls her a “surprise nominee” and a “moderate Republican.” Her primary qualifications appear to be her service on the state’s Judicial Council, which is important given that the Chief Justice oversees the state’s court system. Ron George played a key role in overhauling the courts, and so it would make sense to have someone able and willing to continue that role as Chief Justice.

Of more importance to most of us is Cantil-Sakauye’s record on the state bench. That’s unclear at this point in time. Obviously research is going to have to be done to look over her record in previous cases she’s heard on the circuit court, and if her moderate reputation is deserved – and what “moderate” really means in her case.

Ron George will go down in history as the swing vote that overturned Prop 22 and legalized same-sex marriage in May 2008 – and who then chickened out and threw equal rights to the mob in upholding Prop 8 in May 2009. Many of his other decisions were seen as being more business-friendly, and it would make sense, given Schwarzenegger’s own politics, that Cantil-Sakauye would continue this trend.

Voters will get to decide on her nomination at the November election, so there’s time to do the research and get the answers we need. If for some reason voters reject her, it’s up to the next governor to make a pick.

One thought on “Schwarzenegger Nominates Tani Cantil-Sakauye as Supreme Court Chief Justice”

  1. Justice Cantil-Sakauye has decided about 2,000 in her years on the 3rd District Court of Appeal.  I very briefly perused the summaries of the most recent 200 of those decisions and found nothing noteworthy, much less surprising or controversial.  Keep in mind, though, that: (1) this was a very brief glance and only included about 10% of her cases, and (2) I was focused more on civil cases than criminal cases.

    The Third District Court of Appeal encompasses Sacramento.  

    Aside from handling government-related cases, the Third District is relatively quiet.  There are much fewer criminal cases and much lower-stakes civil cases in the Third District than in the First (SF) or Second (LA) Districts.  I suspect most of Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s cases are going to be yawners.

    I’m not sure I would agree with the LA Times that she is a “surprise nominee.”  Given the mechanics of how the nomination process works, I always expected Schwarzenegger to pick someone of relative obscurity.  And Justice Cantil-Sakauye fits that criteria.  If Schwarzenegger had picked someone who was at all controversial, an organized campaign (from either the right or the left) would encourage voters to vote “no” on his nominee in November.  If his nominee is not confirmed in the November election, Schwarzenegger would lose the chance to nominate George’s replacement, and that luxury would go to the next Governor.

    I’m sure someone’s going to slog through Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s opinions and report on their findings.  My only prediction is that much coffee will be needed.

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