Liberal Justices Poised for California Supreme Court Dominance

Liberal Justices Poised for California Supreme Court Dominance

After serving 24 years on the bench, California Supreme Court Justice Marvin H. Baxter has announced he will be retiring come January, which will leave not just one, but two, vacant seats for California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown to fill with new appointments. The appointments by Brown will most likely move the court further to the left. 

Baxter, 74, came to be known as the court’s most conservative member in recent years, according to the Los Angeles Times, which described him in a 1993 article they published as possessing an “emerging reputation among court observers as cautious, conservative and competent.” 

He was appointed to the post in 1990 by then-Governor George Deukmejian, who the Times describes as “a law-and-order conservative.”

Currently, the single open California Supreme Court seat–until Baxter’s January retiremen –was vacated on April 5 of this year by Justice Joyce L. Kennard, 72. She is, to date, the court’s longest-serving justice with a 25-year tenure, notes the Times.

Kennard was also appointed by then-Governor Deukmejian but, against expectations, forged a more liberal path on the bench as she often sided with the late liberal Justice Stanley Mosk to such a degree that the pair was nicknamed “the odd couple,” writes the Times

A 2012 study conducted by a duo of political science professors offered a partisan perspective of the country’s State Supreme Court Justices in a paper titled “State Supreme Court Ideology and ‘New Style’ Judicial Campaigns.” The study, which was based on data from campaign contributions by the judges themselves, showed California as having a score of -0.32.” A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal,” according to

Brown has been facing pressure to replace Justice Kennard’s vacant seat with a Latino judge. The Times notes that current contenders for the vacated and soon-to-be vacant seats are “Thomas Saenz, the Los Angeles-based president and general counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Stanford University law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Jeffrey W. Johnson, an African-American state appeals court justice; and U.S. District Judges Edward J. Davila and Yvonne Rogers Gonzalez, both Obama appointees.”

Currently the court has six members. Once Brown appoints the two new justices two replace Baxter and Kennard, it will be complete with seven. A third, Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar will also see her term expire in 2015.