Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Court of Appeal Justice Carol A. Corrigan, a moderate Republican, to the California Supreme Court on Friday in a move that is likely to shift the conservative-leaning court toward the center.
Corrigan, 57, a former prosecutor and a judge for 18 years, will fill the vacancy created by last summer's departure of Justice Janice Rogers Brown, the court's only African American and one of its most conservative members. Legal analysts and other judges generally praised Corrigan's elevation. Many view her in the mold of Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who tends to vote with the court's conservatives on law and order issues and with the moderates on social issues. George is often a swing vote on the court, which has only one Democrat.
"Judge Corrigan is careful, thoughtful, quick-witted, and brings a deliberate, detailoriented approach to the law," Schwarzenegger said. "She will bring honor to California's high court and serve the people with dignity and integrity."
Corrigan is expected to win easy approval from a three-member judicial appointments commission headed by Chief Justice George. She will be one of three female justices on the seven-member court. Brown left to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Schwarzenegger's announcement came amid criticism from conservatives of his choice of a former Democratic activist, Susan Kennedy, as his new chief of staff. Corrigan's appointment generally reassured critics within the governor's party, although conservatives favored Court of Appeal Justice Vance Raye, an African American whom Schwarzenegger was also considering, and whom Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer had criticized as being too conservative for the state.
"At least she's a Republican," said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a grass-roots organization. "She's obviously well qualified."
Among the most controversial cases headed to the high court is a challenge to state laws that forbid same-sex marriage. Corrigan declined to discuss her views on gay rights, but other judges said she is likely to be more sympathetic to gay-rights issues than her predecessor. Corrigan said Schwarzenegger and his aides never questioned her about the issue.
In an interview before her appointment, Corrigan repeatedly described herself as a moderate and a centrist. She switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1995 after then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed her to the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
"I think I would probably be a centrist anyplace I found myself," she said. "I was a moderate Democrat, and now I am a moderate Republican.... I am moderate on virtually all things."
She said she particularly admires U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom she called a centrist.
Gerald F. Uelmen, an expert on the state Supreme Court, perused her appeals-court rulings Friday and concluded that Corrigan appeared to be "balanced" on criminal and civil cases.
"I don't find any hot-button cases that would tell you much one way or another," he said. Although she is a former prosecutor, Corrigan did not appear to be "a prosecutor in a black robe," he said.
"I see no apparent agenda," he said. "I think she will fit right in the middle with George and [Justice Carlos R.] Moreno," who was appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis.
Corrigan grew up in Stockton, the only child of a newspaper reporter and a librarian. Neither parent graduated from college, but "the written word was a very big thing in our house, and being Irish, that was part of it," she said.
"So the craft of writing and the challenge of writing is a very enjoyable part of my job," Corrigan said.
Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Lois Haight described Corrigan as "a real wordsmith, one of the best writers I have known."
Corrigan led a multiyear effort to make the state's jury instructions more comprehensible, heading a task force of the California Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the court system. The new instructions, unveiled earlier this year, have won national recognition.
California Supreme Court Justice Ming W. Chin, who is part of the court's conservative wing and previously served with Corrigan on the Court of Appeal, said Corrigan has "great people skills" and is "very collegial." Brown often irritated her colleagues by issuing highly personal dissents, and was considered a loner on the court.
Corrigan, whose sense of humor is widely touted, "will be able to work with all the members of the court, and I think that is important when you are dealing with seven very different people," Chin said. Chin also praised her analytical skills.
Corrigan has long been active in the Roman Catholic Church and in Catholic charities. In response to questions, she said the church's views on such issues as abortion and homosexuality may not necessarily reflect her beliefs, nor would she ever permit her religion to influence her legal decisions.