Chief justice of California Supreme Court won’t seek second term

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye speaks in 2020.

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will not seek reelection to the bench after her current 12-year term concludes next year, she says. The move gives Gov. Gavin Newsom a chance to make a third appointment to the state’s highest court.

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California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will not seek reelection to a second term on the state’s Supreme Court after her current term concludes next year, she confirmed Wednesday.

Cantil-Sakauye said she had informed Gov. Gavin Newsom of her decision to leave the bench and told him she would help to make sure her replacement had a “smooth transition.”

Cantil-Sakauye’s departure will mean a third appointment to the state’s high court for Newsom, a Democrat who has positioned California as a liberal foil to other, more conservative states and to the newly dominant conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.

California’s Supreme Court justices are selected by the governor to serve 12-year terms but must be confirmed by a state judicial commission and then by voters. To be eligible, candidates must have been a member of the State Bar of California or a judge in a California court for at least 10 years.

In addition to hearing cases alongside six associate justices, the chief justice is the administrative leader of the high court and chairs the Judicial Council of California, which sets administrative policy for all state courts.

Cantil-Sakauye said 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.”

Cantil-Sakauye has been viewed by legal analysts as a centrist on civil matters but more conservative on criminal law. Her term was defined in part by a liberalization of the court as older, more conservative justices retired and were replaced by judges appointed by Newsom and his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, also a Democrat.

Cantil-Sakauye also had to navigate budget cuts and the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed state courts for a time, necessitated more virtual proceedings and demanded an entirely new system of safety protocols.

Cantil-Sakauye captured national attention in 2017 when she called on the Trump administration to remove federal immigration agents from California’s state courthouses, where she said they were “stalking” people in ways that could erode public trust in the state courts.

“Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,” she wrote to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.

Cantil-Sakauye was sworn in as the state’s 28th chief justice in January 2011 after being selected for the role by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments and winning a general election for the seat in 2010.

She was born in Sacramento in 1959, served as a prosecutor for Sacramento County and worked for former Gov. George Deukmejian as deputy legal affairs secretary and deputy legislative secretary.

Prior to her appointment to the high court, Cantil-Sakauye was a judge on a Sacramento appeals court.

Replacing Cantil-Sakauye will mark Newsom’s third appointment to the high court — the same number of appointments Brown made. The seventh justice currently serving, Justice Carol Corrigan, was appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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