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California chief justice won't seek a second 12-year term

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye delivers her annual State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif, March 23, 2015.
Associated Press
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye delivers her annual State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif, March 23, 2015.

The California Supreme Court’s chief justice said Wednesday that she will not seek a second 12-year term in November and will conclude her current term of office on January 1.

The announcement by Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye will give Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, his third opportunity to appoint a justice to the seven-member high court, and his first to pick a new chief justice.

Cantil-Sakauye was sworn in to office in January 2011 after she was nominated by former Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and was elected in the November 2010 general election.


She is the first Asian-Filipina American and the second woman to serve as the state’s chief justice. She said in a statement that Newsom “will have a diverse pool of exceptionally well qualified jurists and legal professionals to choose from, and I believe the judiciary, the courts, and access to justice in California will be in good hands.”

Unlike U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal judges, California judges do not hold lifetime positions. She would have had to run for retention by voters in November’s election.

Cantil-Sakauye, 62, made her announcement as the filing deadline is approaching.

She is one of five justices on the seven-seven member court who could stand for retention in November, unless they opt not to run and allow Newsom to appoint their replacements.

At least three of the other four have said they will seek retention.


It could be the largest crowd of justices on any one ballot in more than three decades, according to David Ettinger, an appellate lawyer who writes a blog about the California Supreme Court.

California voters simply vote “yes” or “no” on retaining justices in office, and they don't run against anyone.

Aside from Cantil-Sakauye, the four associate judges who would have to stand for retention are:

— Justice Martin Jenkins, the first openly gay Black man to the state’s high court. He was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020 to replace Justice Ming Chin.

— Justice Patricia Guerrero, the first Latina to serve on the California Supreme Court. Newsom appointed her earlier this year to succeed Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar.

— Justice Joshua Groban, who was appointed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2019.

— Justice Goodwin Liu, who was appointed by Brown in 2011.

All but Guerrero have told court officials they plan to seek retention, while Guerrero has made no announcement.

Justices are up for retention in the first gubernatorial election after their appointment, and again if they fill an unexpired term for a previous justice.

Any retirements give Newsom the chance to nominate another justice.

The governor’s nominations go to the Commission on Judicial Appointments for a public hearing. Once confirmed by the commission, the new justice would stand for voter approval in an upcoming election.

Cantil-Sakauye is one of just two remaining justices appointed by a Republican, both by Schwarzenegger, as California continues its shift to the left. The other GOP appointee is Associate Justice Carol Corrigan. The remainder were appointed by Newsom or Brown.

Aside from heading the most populous state’s high court, Cantil-Sakauye also because of her position heads the Judicial Council of California, which is the administrative arm of the state courts, and the Commission on Judicial Appointments that considers governors’ nominees to fill judicial vacancies.

The judicial council received unusual attention during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic when it ordered $0 bail for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies.

By the time the council lifted the order months later, it had reduced jail populations by more than 20,000 suspects. But the council allowed individual counties to keep $0 bail as they saw fit, and law enforcement officials, prosecutors and other critics faulted the practice for contributing to a surge in organized shoplifting, including mass smash-and-grab assaults on stores.

Cantil-Sakauye also supported ending California’s cash bail system, which lawmakers approved until the law was overturned by voters in 2020.

She has otherwise prided herself in presiding over a collegial seven-member court that generally issues unanimous decisions even on controversial cases.

"For me, collegiality with my bench colleagues was also critical to my service," she said in a statement. “We discussed, debated, and sometimes disagreed, but we were always focused on the rule of law and what was right and just.”

She noted that her time as chief justice “is bookended by the Great Recession and ... the persisting difficulties of a Global Pandemic.”

The daughter of farmworkers, she recalled her first exposure to the justice system “was when my family faced eviction from our home and my mother felt helpless.” And as a wife, she said, “I felt the impact of unjust Japanese Internment on my in-laws.”

The Sacramento native was appointed to Sacramento Municipal Court by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1990 and to the Sacramento County Superior Court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1997, where she created and presided over the county’s first court dedicated to handling domestic violence cases.

Schwarzenegger nominated her for the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento in 2005 before tapping her for the Supreme Court to succeed retiring Chief Justice Ronald George.

She is the second female chief justice, after Rose Elizabeth Bird, who served from March 1977 to January 1987 until she was rejected by voters.