After Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced on Wednesday that she would not stand for reelection, some news reports said Governor Gavin Newsom would choose a new chief justice after January 2, when Cantil-Sakauye’s 12-year term expires, and then only if Newsom himself is reelected.

The actual timeline is much tighter than that. The Governor should name the Chief Justice’s replacement by September 15. It’s required by the state constitution.

Article VI, section 16(d)(1), of the constitution gives a Supreme Court justice with an expiring term until August 15 to file a declaration of candidacy for the November election. That section goes on to provide, “If the declaration is not filed, the Governor before September 16 shall nominate a candidate.”

The Governor’s choice then must be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments — after the required vetting by the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation — before the nomination “is effective” (section 16, subdivision (d)(2)) and the nominee faces the voters in November.

Similar timelines have been followed when other justices have not filed declarations of candidacy.

The Chief Justice’s predecessor, Ronald George, announced in mid July 2010 that he would not seek a new term, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger chose Cantil-Sakauye less than two week’s later, her nomination was confirmed on August 25, she was elected on November 2, and she took office on January 3, 2011.

Justice Marvin Baxter announced on June 18, 2014, that he would not run for reelection, Governor Jerry Brown picked Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar on July 22 to take Baxter’s place, Cuéllar’s nomination was confirmed on August 28, he was elected on November 4, and he was sworn in on January 5, 2015.

Schwarzenegger and Brown acted well before the September 15 constitutional deadline. But if Newsom waits until the last minute to make his choice, he might be squeezing the Secretary of State and other election officials.

According to Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s website, a certified list of candidates for the November 8 election will be posted by September 1 and mailing of ballots to voters will begin no later than October 10. A September 15 nomination, followed by a Commission on Judicial Appointments confirmation a month later, could blow past the election deadlines concerning the Chief Justice’s election. The Secretary of State’s office did not respond to an inquiry about timing.


One year to Election Day for five Supreme Court justices.

Two Supreme Court justices, one prospective justice — and no more — on November’s ballot.