Meet the Chief Justice of California Supreme Court

California

(KRON) – The second woman and first Asian-American to lead the State Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye has three-years to go in her 12-year term.

You may be surprised by her drive to improve your relationship with California’s court system. 

She is a dynamic woman with a vision. 

You likely recognize the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court. How about the seven members of the State Supreme Court? 

“Over 90-percent of the case law is made at the state court level. Over 90-percent of cases that affect your life are made in state court not a federal court but does anyone understand that? No, so I think there’s a huge need for an educated public,” Cantil-Sakauye said. 

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is passionate about the court’s responsibility to serve the public and the public’s need to know how the courts affect their lives.

Of the three branches of government:

  • The Executive – the Governor
  • The Legislative – the lawmakers
  • The Judicial – the courts

“The third branch is probably the least understood, least discussed but the most needed in crisis,” Cantil-Sakauye said. 

The state court touches everyday people in all kinds of real-life problems and in California, she oversees it all.

Growing up in Sacramento in a working-class Filipino family, to earn money she worked a number of regular jobs. 

“I had a blackjack job when I had just complete my first year in law school,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “Later on, that experience really helped inform me to pick a jury. It helped me question witnesses, it helped me read body language and understand non-verbal behavior.”

As Chief Justice, she does not hesitate to speak out publicly criticizing ICE agents for making arrests at state courthouses. 

“To have a federal policy to come into the courts, state courts to arrest people on very often civil immigration warrants is to create terror,” Cantil-Sakauye said. 

She set in motion efforts to eliminate the controversial ‘cash bail’ system. 

“People arrested ought to be evaluated not by the size of their wallet or bank accounts but on who they are and background and history and ability to be back in court as directed and also to not re-offend,” Cantil-Sakauye said. 

She was appointed Chief Justice in 2011 by Republican Governor Schwarzenegger but in 2018, she decided to leave the GOP for “no party affiliation.”  

“I left the Republican party for a host of reasons,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “When I saw the Kavanaugh hearings and saw how they were conducted, saw my daughters, their reaction at that point, I decided that the Republican party label didn’t fit my values my professional life and I moved on from it.”

As the fights over Roe v. Wade and other social issues heat up, the Trump administration has been criticized for stacking the federal courts with staunch conservatives but she reminds us, the Democrats have done the same thing. 

“A good example is Jimmy Carter appointed the 9th Circuit and fill eleven positions in this presidency. That’s a lifetime appointment,” Cantil-Sakauye said. 

When it comes to the U.S. Supreme Court:

“Sandra Day O’Conner, she is my absolute favorite. Her work on the Supreme Court was unifying. She was the swing vote. She was the one that brought the court together,” Cantil-Sakauye said. 

And the popularity of Ruth Bader Ginsberg:

“It’s delightful. My 21-year-old daughter has a statute of her in her bedroom,” Cantil-Sakauye said. 

Outreach to young and old with her K-through-12 and adult civics initiative, a court navigator program for people confused by the system, language interpreters, multilingual signs and more, they all mark, her mission, her legacy, who she is as a Chief Justice.

“We must ensure that income inequality does not translate into a two-tier justice system,” Cantil-Sakauye said.  

So is justice for all?

“Absolutely, absolutely. It has to be for everybody, the minute it isn’t. Is the minute it’s not justice,” Cantil-Sakauye said. 

The Chief Justice is married with two daughters.

Nationwide white men make up 30-percent of the population but 56-percent of the Justices on State Supreme Courts.  

California, however, has one of the most diverse courts in the nation.

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