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. . . and for the Court

November 06, 1986

Never before have the voters of California declined to confirm an incumbent justice of the state Supreme Court, much less three justices at once. The removal of Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Associate Justices Joseph R. Grodin and Cruz Reynoso is unprecedented and potentially fraught with significance both for this court and for the institution of the judiciary.

Bird, Grodin and Reynoso were unable to shake, answer or overcome the charge that they have thwarted the will of the people by voting repeatedly to set aside death-penalty convictions and sentences. The voters saw these three as too liberal and out of step with the judicial views of the electorate. But by exercising their right to remove justices, the voters have served notice on all present and future members of the court that justice must be tempered by political realities. A justice who upholds the law may be doing so at personal risk. This is an unfortunate development, and we hope that Tuesday's voting proves to be an aberration rather than a harbinger of the further politicization of the bench.

As a result of the vote, Gov. George Deukmejian will have an opportunity to name three more justices to the state Supreme Court. Added to the two appointments that he has already made (Malcolm M. Lucas and Edward A. Panelli, both of whom came through Tuesday's balloting in fine shape), Deukmejian will have appointed five of the court's seven members.

A Deukmejian majority on the California Supreme Court is likely to change the course that the court has followed for decades. If the governor names ideologues to the three vacancies, the change could be abrupt and enormous. But if past action is any guide, Deukmejian will appoint people like Lucas and Panelli--Republicans, to be sure, but solid and fair-minded jurists who will give every case a hearing and try to reach the right result.

The public has made clear that it does not want justices to substitute their view of policy for the Legislature's and the people's. It is up to Deukmejian to implement that decision by seeking and appointing justices who will step back from politics and bring the court back with them. Having been rocked by this historic voter repudiation, the court now needs stability as much as anything else. Deukmejian can provide that.

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