When Justice Kathryn Werdegar retired from the Supreme Court, much was made of the fact that, for the first time in many years, a majority of the court’s justices would be appointees of a Democratic governor.  There was speculation about Governor Jerry Brown’s four appointees forming a bloc to shift the court’s ideological direction.  So far, the transformative bloc of Brown justices has materialized in precious few cases.

But one of those few cases came yesterday.  In People v. Lopez, Justice Leondra Kruger wrote the court’s opinion — with Justices Goodwin Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, and Joshua Groban concurring — that overruled an earlier decision and expanded Fourth Amendment rights in car search matters.

Lopez is an outlier, however.   Since Justice Groban (the fourth Brown appointee) joined the court in January, only one other opinion has found the four Brown justices alone in the majority.  That one was In re Ricardo P., where the court limited the imposition as a probation condition of warrantless searches of electronic devices.  There was also one petition for review in which only the Brown appointees voted to grant-and-transfer the case, but it involved a case-specific, relatively insignificant appellate procedural issue.

Of course, it’s hard to be a decisive voting bloc when, as is the case, most of the court’s opinions are unanimous.  Of the 57 opinions filed in cases argued since it became the so-called “Brown court,” there have been dissents in only 12.  Besides Lopez and Ricardo P., the court split 4-3 in just one.

Here are the dissent line-ups in the 12 non-unanimous opinions:

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Justices Chin and Corrigan — Lopez and    Ricardo P.

Justices Liu, Cuéllar, and Groban — People v. Aledamat [whether an error was harmless].

Justices Liu and Cuéllar — People v. Johnson [Batson issue in death penalty case], Stoetzl v. Department of Human Resources [wage issue], and Voris v. Lampert [conversion claim for unpaid wages].

Justices Corrigan and Kruger — People v. Valenzuela [Proposition 47 sentencing case].

Justices Liu and Groban — People v. Fontenot [conviction of attempted crime].

Justice Liu — People v. Rhoades [Batson issue in death penalty case].

Justice Chin — People v. Aranda [state constitution’s double jeopardy clause] and OTO, L.L.C. v. Kho [unconscionable arbitration agreement].

Justice Kruger — In re Cook [record-making procedure for crimes committed by minors].


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