June 23, 2011
Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who assumed the post of Chief Justice in January, has authored her first opinion as Chief Justice. As discussed in this article by Kate Moser in The Recorder, the case, People v. Maikhio, S180289, concerns whether state game wardens have the authority to stop and search fishermen and hunters without suspecting that they have violated hunting or fishing regulations. Writing for a unanimous Court, the Chief held that game wardens do have the authority to conduct such administrative searches and seizures. The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeal’s judgment upholding the suppression of evidence thus obtained, and likewise reversed the dismissal of the misdemeanor charges against the defendant (who allegedly caught a spiny lobster out of season). You can read the opinion here.
The occasion of the Chief Justice’s first Supreme Court opinion got us thinking about how long it typically takes before a new justice issues a first opinion after taking the bench, and whether those opinions are usually unanimous. What we found is that it is not out of the ordinary for a justice to take several months to issue a first opinion. All of the current justices penned their first opinions between three and seven months after taking the bench. Justice Baxter wrote his first opinion most quickly—after only three months—while Justices Werdegar and Chin penned their first opinions roughly seven months after becoming justices.
Regarding whether first opinions are typically unanimous, we found that not to be the case. The late Justice Stanley Mosk, whom we discussed here, concurred and dissented in the first opinions authored by Justices Kennard and Werdegar, and dissented from Justice Chin’s first opinion.