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'Rose Bird Under Attack'

September 07, 1986

Only the most naive observer would oppose Chief Justice Bird's reconfirmation on the basis of personality, demeanor, or work habits. To the extent that Bird's critics have opposed her for those reasons, Babcock is correct in condemning them.

When I was a law student extern in the California Supreme Court in 1981 it was apparent to me that Bird is a tireless worker whose commitment and dedication to her job and the court were unassailable.

Moreover, a careful reading of Rose Bird's opinions leads ineluctably to the conclusion that she possesses sharp analytic skills and a lucid writing style; her work product puts to rest any question of her intellectual ability, and again, Babcock rightly condemns Bird critics who cite this as a reason for voting against reconfirmation.

However, Babcock knows, or should know, that Bird critics oppose her on far more defensible grounds than those mentioned above. The sole issue in the Bird reconfirmation debate is whether she has carried out her constitutional duty to apply and follow the law. On this critical question Babcock's article lacks analytical rigor.

To begin with, it is the clearly expressed will of the people of this state that death can be imposed for first-degree murder if certain special circumstances are established. However, it is generally acknowledged that Bird finds the death penalty personally abhorrent and philosophically and morally wrong. Hence, it is not surprising to find that Bird has voted to reverse the death penalty in every case brought before her, a record unmatched by any other sitting justice.

Bird has been quoted as saying that she will follow the law, and impose the death penalty, in appropriate cases. But given her voting record, and moral view of this form of punishment, this statement frankly lacks credibility.

Isn't the strong inference raised by the circumstantial evidence that Bird is simply unable or unwilling to cast aside her personal predilections and carry out the expressed legislative will? And if that's the case, then Bird should not be reconfirmed.


Santa Maria

Hill is a deputy district attorney for Santa Barbara County who formerly clerked for Justice Hugh Evans of the Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento and was a student extern for former Justice Frank Newman of the California Supreme Court.

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