California Chief Justice Weak on Presumption of Innocence, but Strong on “Social Justice”

Back in 2010, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger selected fellow Republican Tani Cantil-Sakauye as Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, the second woman to hold the office. Governor Jerry Brown picked the first, Rose Bird, but in 1986 California voters ousted Bird, along with Brown Supreme Court picks Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye recently announced that she is giving up her Republican Party registration in favor of “no party.” The move itself carries little if any significance, but Cantil-Sakauye’s reason for the switch might be of interest to judges, attorneys and the public at large.

In the confirmation hearing for President Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, professor Christine Blasey Ford claimed that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her during the 1980s when they were both in high school. Tani Cantil-Sakauye wondered why Republicans would bring in a female prosecutor to question Blasey Ford. This was to determine whether Blasey Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh were true or false. The most casual observer might wonder why the Chief Justice of California’s Supreme Court would have a problem with questions of truth or falsehood. As any judge should know, accusation does not equal guilt and testimony that runs contrary to facts must be rejected.

While brokering her change of registration, Cantil-Sakauye described herself as open-minded on “social justice” issues. She praised the judicial appointees of governor Jerry Brown, who she claims show a “people-centric” and “underdog-centric” philosophy. “It is about what are we going to do about homelessness,” she said, “what are we going to do about climate, what are we going to do about guns.” That sounds more like the political agenda of a legislator, not an impartial judge.

Californians might be troubled by a Chief Justice who thinks criminal justice and social justice are the same. Likewise, concern over “guns,” rather than criminals, raises questions about Cantil-Sakauye’s support for the Second Amendment. California has passed a batch of restrictive gun laws that will require background checks even for the purchase of ammunition. None of the laws appears to trouble “no party” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, whose term expires in 2023.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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