|July 8, 2014|
Previously published on June 2014
The talk of the California appellate world is the announcement that Justice Marvin Baxter will retire from the California Supreme Court in January. Coming right after the recent retirement of Justice Joyce Kennard, this gives Governor Brown his second and third high-court appointments in quick succession. This by itself is remarkable: a single governor appointing 3 of the Court’s 7 justices. But if Brown is re-elected this fall (as most expect), he may well get a fourth and perhaps even a fifth nomination.
- First, this is not the same Jerry Brown who ran the state 30 years ago and appointed some of the most liberal justices ever to sit on the Court. Since then he held many challenging public posts, and has steered California through tough budget years - disappointing Democrats almost as often as Republicans. He is no centrist, but nor is he going to stack the most influential state court in America with radicals.
- Predictions about the evolution of Brown’s first appointment, Justice Goodwin Liu, seem especially wrong-headed to me. From the start three years ago, many believed the former Boalt Hall professor was a closet liberal. He is not. He is a strong intellect, whose pragmatism will grow as he continues to confront the problems that reach the Court. Even now, some are saying that the upcoming appointments will shore up a more liberal “bloc” behind Justice Liu. I don’t see it.
- Instead I expect Brown will do what governors should do: nominate more candidates who can match Liu’s candlepower and even temperament.
- The practical message: They key takeaway here is that the Court may edge slightly left from its current centrist position, but nowhere near the tilt that some are predicting.