Governor Gavin Newsom today nominated Supreme Court Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero to be California’s next Chief Justice and chose Alameda Superior Court Judge Kelli Evans to take Guerrero’s place as an associate justice. (Here.) If confirmed, they should take their new positions on January 2.

Guerrero’s nomination will be most likely be the subject of a Commission on Judicial Appointments hearing in about a month and, if successful there (as is probable), she will then face the voters in November for confirmation.

The process is not as clear for Evans. Although Newsom is nominating Guerrero, he “announced his intention to appoint . . . Evans . . . to fill the vacancy created by Justice Guerrero’s elevation to Chief Justice.” (There’s a difference between a nomination and an appointment. (See here.)) That vacancy won’t occur until January 2 (assuming the Commission and the voters confirm Guerrero). The governor can probably make an appointment to fill an impending vacancy. (See here.) But an appointment rather than a nomination could mean that Evans won’t be on the ballot until 2026.

On the other hand, if, because of her nomination to be Chief Justice, Guerrero has not filed her declaration of candidacy for her current associate justice position or is withdrawing an already filed declaration, then the state constitution provides Newsom “shall nominate” a candidate for Guerrero’s associate justice spot by September 16 and, if the Commission confirms the nomination, that candidate — presumably Evans — will face the voters along with Guerrero this November.

I don’t see how the Governor can avoid nominating Evans instead of appointing her. The only way seems to be if Guerrero is a candidate for both Chief Justice (as a nominee) and for her current associate justice position (via a declaration of candidacy). But she can’t be on the ballot for two different judicial offices at the same election, can she? This is all technical stuff, but it makes a difference regarding what the November ballot will look like.

In any event, the governor’s choices come just two weeks after incumbent Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced she would not run for reelection. That’s fast, but not surprising, given the tight constitutional and election-related deadlines the Governor was facing. (See here.)

Neither Guerrero nor Evans have been in their current offices for long. Justice Guerrero joined the Supreme Court less than five months ago. She has yet to author a Supreme Court opinion, which is not unusual for new justices. (See here.) Judge Evans was appointed to the superior court in July 2021. Guerrero is 50; Evans is 53.

If, as is likely, they are confirmed, Guerrero will be the first Latina or Latino Chief Justice and Evans will be the third Black justice and the second openly gay justice on the current court. The Governor’s news release includes more extensive bios of the two judges.

Guerrero will be taking on a daunting job. As Chief Justice, she is the leader not only of the Supreme Court but of the entire California judiciary, which, I believe, is the largest in the world, including having more judges than the federal system that Chief Justice John Roberts oversees. She has good administrative experience for the position, having served at all three levels of the state court system, as a presiding judge (of the family courts) in the San Diego Superior Court, and as a partner in a big law firm.


Cheryl Miller in The Recorder.

Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Kevin Rector in the Los Angeles Times.

Adam Beam for the Associated Press. (I’m quoted in the article.)

[August 11 update: Malcolm Maclachlan in the Daily Journal. (I’m quoted in the article.)]