Former Justices Joseph Grodin and Carlos Moreno are among the named amici who yesterday submitted letters to the Supreme Court in support of the original writ petition in Office of the State Public Defender v. Bonta. Claiming “California’s capital punishment scheme is administered in a racially discriminatory manner,” the petition makes an as-applied challenge to the death penalty under the State Constitution.

Justices Grodin and Moreno — joined by former Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Anthony Kline and former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza — write in their letter that they “do not take a position on the merits [of the petition’s constitutional claim],” but they do encourage the Supreme Court to “fully review the petition.” Although disclaiming a position on the merits, the letter does say, “amici have seen firsthand what recent empirical studies make clear: Extreme racial disparities plague California’s capital punishment regime.” The judges are represented by Munger, Tolles & Olson.

A second amicus letter is from 18 members of California’s Legislature, including Senate President Pro Tem Emeritus Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Emeritus Anthony Rendon. Represented by Olson Remcho, the legislators claim the ball is in the court’s court. They write that “race influences whether the death penalty is sought and imposed in California” and that “the consequences of that influence cannot be fully ameliorated through further legislative action.” They say they “have reluctantly concluded that the problem is one that only th[e] Court can resolve.”

Another amicus letter comes from the Prosecutors Alliance of California, “an organization of prosecutors committed to reforming California’s criminal justice system by advancing public safety, human dignity, and community wellbeing.” The group, represented by Gibson Dunn, tells the court that “review is particularly appropriate because of how many features of the state’s death penalty system open the door to potential racial discrimination.”

The court has asked for a preliminary opposition by May 6 from California’s Attorney General, the only respondent named in the petition. The petitioners will have 10 days after that date to reply. The court will then at some point (there’s no deadline) decide whether to hear the petition on the merits. If it does, there will be fuller briefing from the Attorney General and most probably from many amici. (Rule 8.487(b) & (e).)


Heavyweight writ petition asks Supreme Court to declare death penalty unconstitutional

Supreme Court asks for preliminary opposition to anti-death penalty writ petition