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Supreme Court Campaign

December 15, 1985

The 2,230 identical, computer-printed letters (Dec. 8) from members of "Californians to Defeat Rose Bird" provided unintended symbolism of the kind of appellate judges Howard Jarvis' organization would like to foist upon the people of this state. If Howard Jarvis, state Sen. H. L. Richardson (R-Glendora), and other right-wing ideologues have their way, our Supreme Court will be packed with carbon-copy supporters of their political agenda.

What is really under attack from the campaign to recall Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, Joseph Grodin, Cruz Reynoso and Stanley Mosk is not the court's decisions but the independence and integrity of our judiciary. A judiciary unfettered by political pressure is an essential part of our constitutional system of checks and balances. That system will be in jeopardy if appellate judges can be recalled merely because some of their decisions are unpopular or offend special interest groups with the resources to mount a slick statewide recall campaign.

As a practicing attorney, I have frequently disagreed with the decisions of the Bird Court. However, I greatly respect the independence of the justices despite the tremendous political pressure that unfortunately has been placed upon the Supreme Court.

And, I am outraged at the tactics of groups like Jarvis', which distort the record of the court and deny the crucial role of judicial review in American democracy. Despite Jarvis' inflammatory rhetoric, criminals have not been freed to walk the streets. Few convictions have actually been overturned, and in virtually all cases the individuals have been retried and convicted.

Jarvis' self-righteous anger over court decisions on 1978 property tax initiative, Proposition 13, is misplaced. Proposition 13 was so poorly written that courts are still dealing with its loopholes and ambiguities after seven years on the books. Had the Supreme Court lacked the independence and political courage to resolve the issues raised by passage of Proposition 13, the state would have faced years of legal and fiscal chaos.

Many of the landmark steps of American democracy in this century were brought about by court decisions: desegregation of public schools, the one-person, one-vote rule, and the freedom of the press to publish without prior government restraint. Let us not forget that only 20 years ago, our state Supreme Court justices were threatened with recall because of their then unpopular decision that held unconstitutional an initiative that legalized discrimination in housing. Judicial independence was preserved then; I hope the people of this state have the foresight to do so again in 1986 by defeating the recall campaign.


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