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Cantil-Sakauye confirmed by judicial panel;
will be on the November ballot

Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
Tani Cantil-Sakauye

Tani Cantil-Sakauye will be on the November ballot after the Commission on Judicial Appointments last month unanimously confirmed her nomination to be the next chief justice of the California Supreme Court, paving the way for the Sacramento jurist to become the court’s first Filipina leader.

Documents made public two days before the Aug. 25 confirmation showed that the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation rated Cantil-Sakauye “exceptionally well-qualified” to become chief justice, the top ranking the commission issues. In a letter to Chief Justice Ronald George, JNE chair Alice Salvo said the nominee has a “brilliant mind,” takes her duties seriously and “brings a sense of joyful enthusiasm to the performance of them.” Added Salvo, “She is always respectful and considerate toward colleagues, staff, attorneys, and litigants. She is immensely respected for her exceptional objectivity, her impartiality, her good judgment and lack of bias, her common sense and her decisiveness. She possesses the model judicial temperament.”

The appointments commission, made up of George, Attorney General Jerry Brown and Joan Dempsey Klein, a Los Angeles appeals court justice, took testimony for two hours from 13 people, all but two offering support. "She is the perfect person to assume the duties of the chief justice," said Justice Arthur Scotland, her colleague on the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento.

Klein, long an advocate of more women on the bench, asked the nominee, "Do you realize the huge responsibility to yourself and your gender?” Cantil-Sakauye nodded, acknowledged Klein’s role as a pioneer for women judges and replied, “None of us got here alone.”

Two opponents of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s choice to lead the high court criticized her, one for favoring women over men in child custody and domestic violence matters. A second critic, E.T. Snell, who described himself as a “clown community activist” said Cantil-Sakauye pursued “draconian criminal jurisprudence.” The nominee said she stood by her record and called her critics misinformed and misguided.

All seven Supreme Court justices attended the hearing, as well as Cantil-Sakauye’s mother, husband, the couple’s two daughters, colleagues from the Sacramento bench and members of the Filipino community.

Cantil-Sakauye, 50, will be unopposed on the Nov. 2 ballot and if confirmed by voters, will begin a 12-year term in January, when George will step down. The daughter of immigrant farm workers, she will be the first Filipina to lead the Supreme Court, which will have a female majority.

Cantil-Sakauye has been an associate justice for the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento since 2005 and has nearly 20 years of experience on the bench. She was first appointed to the municipal court in 1990 at the age of 31. She earlier worked in the Sacramento district attorney’s office and then served as deputy legal affairs secretary and then deputy legislative secretary to Gov. Deukmejian. George appointed her to the Judicial Council and named her chair of a key committee on financial accountability and efficiency, which oversees the Administrative Office of the Courts.

After the hearing, Cantil-Sakauye ducked questions about same-sex marriage because, she said, related issues may again come before the court. But she said her background might lead her to approach the controversial issue with a different perspective. “Either as a woman, a Filipina, a mother, a 50-year-old woman in this society – that always has an influence on how I see the facts,” though not on how she applies the law, she said.

“I like to fully know the facts before I make a decision,” she told reporters. “And so, in that way, I am probably inclusive and pretty collaborative. But I like to get to a decision.”