Chief Justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakayue, pictured after swearing… (John G. Mabanglo / European…)
Reporting from San Francisco — Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Wednesday that the California Supreme Court may decide "as soon as next week" whether to weigh in on the federal Proposition 8 appeal and expressed hope that a Southern California Latino would be chosen to succeed departing Justice Carlos R. Moreno.
In her first meeting with reporters since taking over for retired Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Cantil-Sakauye said she would meet with Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday and discuss the judicial branch budget and Moreno's successor.
Moreno, the only Democrat on the court, is leaving at the end of this month to make more money in the private sector. He was the sole justice on the court to vote to overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that reinstated a ban on same-sex marriage.
Cantil-Sakauye said Moreno had been an important "ambassador" for the court and as a resident of Los Angeles, had ensured the court has a strong presence there. She said geographic and ethnic diversity are important to the court, and "it really would be helpful" if Moreno's successor shares his heritage and residency.
Brown has yet to reveal his leanings on the subject, but his advisors have been examining several Latino candidates, including law professors. The court also has no African-American justice.
Gay rights activists have bemoaned Moreno's departure at a time when the court is being asked to play another critical role in Proposition 8. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has asked the California high court to determine whether state law gives sponsors of initiatives the authority to defend them legally when state officials refuse to do so.
The state court has been highly deferential to initiatives in the past. If the court rules that initiative backers have special status under state law, the 9th Circuit would be more likely to rule on the constitutionally of Proposition 8.
Lawyers and law professors who have followed the case suspect that the 9th Circuit was prepared to dismiss the appeal by backers of Proposition 8 on the grounds that only state officials can challenge the trial court's ruling against the measure. Gay rights lawyers say such a ruling would mean Proposition 8's demise, but it would have no direct effect on same-sex marriage outside California.
The new chief justice has declined to reveal her views about gay marriage. As an appeals court judge in Sacramento, she performed a wedding for a same-sex couple "as a favor to someone else who had a family emergency," she said. Same-sex marriage was legal for six months in 2008. "I didn't have any qualms about it," she said.
Cantil-Sakauye, appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, described herself as a "a very moderate Republican" who was attracted to the party in college because of its strong law-and-order stance. She said she does not vote along party lines.
She rents an apartment in San Francisco four blocks from the court and commutes to her home in Sacramento on weekends to be with her husband and daughters. "We Skype, and we talk," she said.
She said one of her biggest surprises since becoming chief justice was the failure of judges critical of the centralization of the courts to give her a chance to address their concerns. Some of those judges have formed an association to lobby for more autonomy.
Cantil-Sakauye said she was willing to appoint some of those critics to judicial policy committees, but "instead of giving me a chance," the judges wrote negative and critical letters.