November 26, 2012

The multi-tasking Supreme Court

Last week, the Supreme Court responded to a request by Governor Brown for a clemency recommendation under article V, section 8(a), of the California Constitution. That provision states that “[t]he Governor may not grant a pardon or commutation to a person twice convicted of a felony except on recommendation of the Supreme Court, 4 judges concurring.”

The clemency action is a good reminder that the Supreme Court does more than just decide cases (and decide which cases it will decide). It’s well known that the Chief Justice does double duty, serving not only as one of seven justices but also as chair of the Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the state’s entire judicial branch of government. (Another justice must join the Chief as a council member.) The rest of the court, however, also has responsibilities other than just handling appeals and writ petitions. Here are some more examples:

The court regulates the legal profession. It admits applicants to practice law in California state courts. (See Bus. & Prof. Code, section 6064.) The court usually follows, without comprehensive review, the recommendations of the State Bar’s examining committee about attorney admissions, but not always. The court now has before it two high-profile admission matters — it will decide whether to admit Sergio Garcia (an undocumented immigrant) and Stephen Glass (a disgraced former journalist). The court also decides when lawyers can no longer practice. (See Bus. & Prof. Code section 6078.) Earlier this year, the court made news when it sent 24 discipline cases back to the State Bar with the implicit message that the Bar’s punishment recommendations were too lenient.

The Supreme Court can and does get involved in the political redistricting process. The court used to intervene only when the other two branches couldn’t agree on how to draw the lines for Congressional, state legislative, and state board of equalization districts. The approval of Proposition 11 four years ago, however, has increased the potential for court involvement. If the new California Citizens Redistricting Commission isn’t able to produce district maps, the court is required to appoint special masters to do the job. The court was spared that responsibility this year, but it was dragged into the process through other changes made by Prop. 11: the court denied Prop. 11-authorized writ petitions challenging some of the Commission’s maps and it denied — after an expedited review — another writ petition to stay implementation of the State Senate map, a petition that was filed because a referendum on the map was likely to qualify for the ballot. The referendum did qualify and, had the voters not approved the map, Prop. 11 would have required the court to appoint special masters to draw a new map.

Article VI, section 18(m), of the California Constitution requires the Supreme Court to adopt a Code of Judicial Ethics, which are “rules for the conduct of judges, both on and off the bench, and for judicial candidates in the conduct of their campaigns.” The court recently approved changes to the code. The court had help on this, reviewing the recommendations of its Advisory Committee on the Code of Judicial Ethics. The Advisory Committee, in turn, considered a report of the Judicial Council’s Commission for Impartial Courts.

The Supreme Court also approves rules of professional conduct for lawyers. (Bus. & Prof. Code, section 6077.)

Dispute about gubernatorial succession or who acts when the governor can’t? The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction there. (Cal. Const., art. V, section 10.)

The court appoints the one Court of Appeal justice and two superior court judges who make up part of the membership of the Commission on Judicial Performance. (Cal. Const., art. VI, section 8(a).)

Business and Professions Code section 6001.2 requires the Supreme Court to appoint two members to the State Bar’s Governance in the Public Interest Task Force. The court appoints five members to the State Bar’s governing board of trustees. (Bus. & Prof. Code, section 6013.1.) And it appoints the presiding judge and two of the five hearing judges of the State Bar Court. (Bus. & Prof. Code, section 6079.1.)

Reviewing this sampling of the court’s extra-curricular activities demonstrates that multi-tasking is an essential part of a Supreme Court justice’s job description.

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4 Responses to “The multi-tasking Supreme Court”

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  3. […] applicants to practice law in California is one of the Supreme Court’s many tasks.  In the vast majority of cases, the court admits without fuss those applicants certified by the […]

  4. […] Cal. Rules of Court, rule 10.1000(a)(1)(C).)  It’s another one of the Supreme Court’s jobs besides deciding […]

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