During a phone call with the media following the announcement of her decision not to seek reelection to a second 12-year term (see here), California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she “still has anxiety” about her decision to retire, even though she has served as a judge for over three decades. She also conveyed that she presently has no future plans, although she definitively ruled out any role in politics.
Cantil-Sakauye expressed a willingness to give Governor Gavin Newsom names of possible successors for the position of leading the Supreme Court and the state’s judiciary, the world’s largest. But she said she would do so only if Newsom requests her advice. The Chief Justice spoke briefly with the Governor this morning. He issued a statement of praise this afternoon.
Under the state constitution, Governor Newsom has only until mid September to nominate the next Chief Justice. (Article VI, section 16(d).) Before the nominee can take office when Cantil-Sakauye’s term ends on January 2, they must be confirmed first by the Commission on Judicial Appointments and then by the voters in November.
A recommendation from the outgoing Chief Justice was a big factor in Cantil-Sakauye’s promotion to her present office. In his memoir, “Chief: The Quest for Justice in California,” Ronald George related that, when he announced he would not stand for reelection as Chief Justice in 2010, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asked George for his views on his successor. George had a list of four people, and Cantil-Sakauye — then a justice on the Third District Court of Appeal — was his top choice. George had appointed her to the Judicial Council and considered her “a star in the area of statewide court administration.” He also told the Governor that Cantil-Sakauye’s “very compelling life story . . . would bring many advantages to the performance of her duties as Chief Justice of our large and multicultural state.”
The Chief Justice’s decision to step down was not a complete surprise. She had been noncommittal about her plans of late. Also, Cantil-Sakauye seemed to presage her choice when she mentioned in her State of the Judiciary address in March that her tenure as Chief has been “bookended” by two crises; she echoed that theme in her statement today, saying, “My career as chief justice is bookended by the Great Recession and administrative challenges at the beginning and now an historic judicial branch budget and the persisting difficulties of a Global Pandemic.”
Related media coverage:
Don Thompson for the Associated Press. (I’m quoted in the article.)
Cheryl Miller in The Recorder.
Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Kevin Rector in the Los Angeles Times.
Rosalio Ahumada in the Sacramento Bee.
Maria Dinzeo for Courthouse News Service.
Daniel Wiessner for Reuters.