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Pat Brown Apprehensive About Future of Court

November 22, 1986

The voters have spoken and California will have three new Supreme Court justices. I do not know what this foretells for California law and California life--but, I am apprehensive.

For more than 40 years, the California Supreme Court has been the most distinguished state high court in the land. Under justices appointed by both Democratic and Republican governors, the court has blazed new trails in the rights of individuals in a mass society, in the rights of working people and minorities and consumers. Its opinions have been models for courts across the nation, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Associate Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso have made substantial contributions to our laws and our society. They are each distinguished jurists in the tradition of Phil F. Gibson, Roger J. Traynor, Donald R. Wright and Mathew O. Tobriner, and are entitled to look back on their tenure on the court with unalloyed pride.

Putting it mildly, I am distressed by the campaign waged against them and the precedent it sets. Suppose, for instance, that there are no executions in California by the next general election in 1990. It is a distinct possibility. After all, there are 25 other states with death penalty laws but which have had no execution in the decade since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty. Will another such campaign as the one we have just gone through be in order--this time, against Gov. George Deukmejian's appointees?

Or suppose we have executions, but some politician sees there is mileage in contending that we have not had enough, or that they are insufficiently public to deter crime, or that the court is in some other way out of step with the public opinion of the moment? The possibilities are both limitless and gruesome.

Gov. Deukmejian's two appointees to the court, Justices Malcolm Lucas and Edward Panelli, are distinguished and fair-minded jurists, and the campaign I co-chaired unhestitatingly supported their reelection. I hope and trust that the governor exercises the same good judgment in his three coming appointments as he used in his first two.

But, whoever the governor appoints faces on almost inhuman challenge. The justices who will sit on the next court are duty-bound, as were their predecessors, to issue rulings in accordance with the dictates of the law, not with those of politics or public opinion. Yet, what justice or judge can be certain that he or she is not swayed, even subconsciously, by what happened on election day? The genie of politics is out of the bottle, and it's no easy task getting it back inside.

Whether under these conditions the court can continue in its historic role as the defender of the individual against the mass and the weak against the strong and the law against momentary passion is suddenly and sadly an open question. That is one reason why many of us came to the justices' defense. The other reason was the justices themselves. In the face of enormous pressure, they never hedged on their principles or dishonored their oaths. I salute them for a job well and courageously done and wish them well in their future endeavors.



Independent Citizens' Committee

to Keep Politics Out of the Court

Los Angeles

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