Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird called on California politicians Wednesday not to endorse her candidacy or offer her campaign support.
"I've made it quite clear that I have not asked any politician to give us any help or assistance or to endorse us, and I would appreciate it if they didn't," the beleaguered jurist told a television interviewer.
Bird, who will stand for confirmation election in November with five of the seven-member Supreme Court, faces strong opposition from Republican officeholders in the state. At the same time, Democrats have gone their independent ways on her candidacy, with many waffling, which has touched off something of a controversy in their own political party.
On Tuesday, Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) complained because leading Democratic candidates had not taken a stand on the court election.
And Wednesday, Republican Gov. George Deukmejian told audiences in Sacramento and Stockton that his probable Democratic reelection opponent, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, should let his views on Bird be known so that voters can "make the connection" between the mayor and the effect he would have as governor "on the entire judiciary of the state."
"I challenge him to tell the people where he stands," Deukmejian said of Bradley, adding, "I wouldn't be surprised if he came out against her. He does more flip-flops than Mary Lou Retton."
However, Bird, speaking to KCBS-TV, in an interview taped Friday and broadcast Wednesday night, said she shuns such endorsements or assistance from other public officials, "because I think, in the long run, we ensure the independence of the judiciary--in the sense that a judiciary is fair and impartial--if it is kept out of politics."
When she first stood for confirmation election, Democratic political leaders, including Bradley carried the load of her reelection. However, they did so as members of independent campaign committees and not at the behest of the chief justice, her aides explained. A spokesman said she has been consistent over the years in her standoffishness about involvement of other political figures on her behalf.
This election, Bradley has so far remained noncommittal on Bird's candidacy, awaiting the recommendations of a group of lawyers and friends whom the mayor has asked for advice.
However, Deukmejian is not satisfied. Noting that he has appointed more than 300 judges since taking office in 1983, Deukmejian said anyone who aspires to serve as governor has to exercise leadership, "and I don't think it's a sign of leadership for that person to either vacillate on this issue or to change positions on the issue."
Deukmejian said he too supports the court's independence from the Legislature; "they should not have independence from the public." He opposed the idea--endorsed by the California Democratic Party at a state convention last weekend--of appointing justices for life, without any opportunity for voters to oust them from office.
"The people of this state do have the right to be able to vote to decide whether or not a justice or any judge should be allowed to . . . receive a new term," the governor said.
"There are some who are advocating that we should take away from the people the right to make that decision. I'm strongly opposed to that position," he said.
In her television interview, Bird, who is most frequently attacked for her long list of votes to overturn death sentences, repeated, "Yes I would and yes I could" uphold a death sentence "in any case where the law is constitutional."
She cautioned against trying to look at a judge's decisions for evidence of personal bias.
"A judge, unlike a legislator or a governor, is not given the prerogative of making decisions based on whether they like or dislike a law--you don't vote it up or down," she said. "If you judge a judge by the bottom line, you really are mistaken, because very often the judges' personal views may be very different than the ultimate decision that comes out."
Bird seemed to show mixed emotions about the gigantic political campaign taking shape around her. Asked if it was unpleasant, she replied:
"No, not at all. I think it is a unique opportunity to talk to the citizens about an institution that is not very well understood, I think, generally."
But then, when asked whether it has been personally difficult, she responded:
"It's painful sometimes. The process itself, especially the political process, is a very mean-spirited one, and that takes some adjustment."