The Supreme Court of California has been dominated by Republican appointees for three decades, but another likely term for Govornor Jerry Brown may well turn the tide. The Govornor currently has only one Democratic appointment pending, but three more may be on the horizon.
Brown has already made one appointment to the court in 2011, Goodwin Liu, who was then a UC Berkeley law professor. Yet, now with three of the court’s seven justices all in their 70’s, including the two most conservative, the Governor can change the direction of the court for a generation. If his appointments are in the mold of Justice Liu, that could mean an even greater left turn for a state already deeply mired in liberal programs. Liu is an enthusiastic advocate for gay rights and same-sex marriage, and is against the administration of the death penalty.
The Governor is currently preparing to appoint his second supreme court justice to replace Justice Joyce L. Kennard, a Governor Deukmejian appointee, who has just retired. According to the L.A.Times, Kennard is a moderate but was unpredictable in her decisions. Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen believes that her replacement will be significant, “but it is going to take a couple of more appointments to turn this court around.”
Some analysts speculate that Brown will pick a Latino or African American, or anyone from Southern California given that none of these groups are currently represented on the court. The L.A.Times reports that judges and lawyers predict that the Governor will select a Latino. Jon Eisenberg, an appellate lawyer and an expert on the California Supreme Court, concludes that, although special interest groups are applying pressure on Brown, “he throws in the wild card of doing whatever he feels like doing.”
One of the nation’s most influential courts is primed for two more possible retirements in Brown’s presumed second term. One of those is Justice Marvin R. Baxter, another Gov. George Deukmejian appointee. Baxter is an adherent to the principles of “judicial restraint,” a doctrine favored by conservatives which asserts that changes in the law should be made by the legislature and not by the courts. Considered to be one of the most conservative on the court, Baxter is 74 and has not committed to signing up for another twelve years, but has until December to make a decision.
Also, Justice Ming W. Chin, a conservative Wilson appointee, is 71. He doesn’t face an election for years, but acquaintances say he has talked about retiring.