April 5, 2014

Brown could reshape high court

That’s the headline on Maura Dolan’s lead article on the front page of this morning’s Los Angeles Times.  The article — prompted by the retirement, effective today, of Justice Joyce Kennard – notes that it’s been over two decades since there has been more than one Democratic appointee sitting on the California Supreme Court.  However, with “[t]hree of the court’s seven justices, including the two most conservative, . . . in their 70s,” the court “may soon be remade by Democratic Gov. Jerry  Brown if, as expected, he wins another [four-year] term” this November.

Two of the three longest serving jurists face retention elections this year.  Dolan reports that Justice Werdegar has said she will run, but that Justice Baxter “has refused to commit publicly to running.”  (There are still over four months for the justices to file their declarations of candidacy.)  The third justice — Justice Chin — was retained just four years ago and need not face the voters for another eight years, but, according to the article, “acquaintances say he has talked about retiring.”

Dolan’s article, of course, includes the obligatory speculation about whom Governor Brown might name as Justice Kennard’s successor.  The names mentioned are Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the  Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Stanford University law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar; Second District Court of Appeal Justices Dennis M. Perluss and Jeffrey W. Johnson; U.S. District Court Judges Edward J. Davila and Yvonne Rogers Gonzalez; Sixth District Court of Appeal Justice Miguel Márquez; Third District Court of Appeal Justice Elena Duarte; UCLA  Law School Dean Rachel Moran; UC Davis Law School Dean Kevin Johnson; and First District Court of Appeal Justices James Humes, Martin Jenkins, and Maria P. Rivera.

It has been almost nine years since the court had an African-American justice and three years since the court’s last Latino justice, and, the article says, “Brown faces political pressure to change that.”  But, as Jon Eisenberg (Of Counsel to Horvitz & Levy) is quoted as saying, “The political pressures . . . are one thing, but [the governor] throws in the wild card of doing whatever he feels like doing.”  Indeed, no one saw Justice Liu’s appointment coming.  Well, almost no one.

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