first glance, there might seem little for the justices to worry about. Both
George and Chin have raised substantial amounts of money--far more than the
groups that oppose their retention. And California voters have only once in
history actually removed a Supreme Court justice from office--in 1986 when
voters booted former Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and two colleagues
because they perceived them as too lenient on the death penalty.
worries the justices is that, in recent elections, support for appellate
judges seeking retention has waned across the board, whether they have
opposition or not. Members of the judiciary are increasingly apprehensive that
any organized opposition could be enough to topple them.
has been a percentage over the years who always vote against the judges,"
said Mike Spence, spokesman for the campaign against George and Chin and a
director of a state anti-abortion group. "Our goal is just to communicate
with enough people to swing it over the top."
years ago, some appellate court justices barely squeaked by. The margin of
approval for all state appellate justices dipped from an average of 76.8% in
the 1980s to 60.1% in 1994.
Court and state Court of Appeal justices must stand for retention in the first
gubernatorial election after their appointment. After that, they stand for
retention every 12 years. About 40 of the state's 93 Court of Appeal justices
will be on the ballot this fall. A justice must receive more than 50% of the
vote to remain in office.
one knows for certain why the support for judicial retention has declined, but
explanations abound. The votes against justices are attributed to general
dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system, voter anger over individual
verdicts or rulings by other judges--including appointed federal jurists--and
opposition to lengthy terms.
recent elections, justices with an ethnic name or those who were being
retained to a full 12-year term received the most "no" votes.
they can't pronounce your name, [voters] think you are some undesirable alien
or something," said Justice Marc Poche, who serves on the Court of Appeal
in San Francisco and who saw his retention vote fall substantially in 1994.
judges have campaigned and won changes on election materials that may make
their retention easier this time around. Most notably, the ballot will not say
the length of the term of office a justice is seeking.
the margin of approval declining, a concerted campaign can have a big impact.
Abortion opponents claim they will distribute as many as 6 million pieces of
literature--including slate cards--and run radio advertisements against
George, 58, and Chin, 56.
as the justices anxiously await the balloting, court observers are looking
ahead to the aftermath of the election. Because the governor appoints state
judges, the state's next governor will have a major impact on the judiciary.
biggest change would come if the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, is
elected. The state has had Republican governors for 16 years, so the vast
majority of sitting judges are Republican appointees.
a spot opened on the state Supreme Court, most observers expect that Davis
would try to avoid the sort of controversial nominees that roiled the tenure
of the state's last Democratic governor, Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr.
think Davis would be very careful about going the Jerry Brown route,"
said a Republican appointee on the appellate bench. "Like Bill Clinton,
Davis would appoint centrist, moderate Democrats, nobody too
even moderate Democrats would probably steer the court to the left of its
current stance. Judging by his positions on legal issues, Davis appointees
would be more likely to rule for plaintiffs and against business defendants
than the appointees of recent Republican administrations have been.
candidate Dan Lungren, the state attorney general, would be expected to
appoint judges he considers conservative Republicans, jurists who would be
more likely to rule for the defense than plaintiffs in civil cases and for
prosecutors in criminal matters.
he has said he opposes a litmus test on abortion, Lungren has expressed his
anti-abortion views at confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justices. He
voted to confirm both George and Chin, although he has refused to endorse them
for the election.
fight over George and Chin began last year when they voted to strike down a
never-enforced state law that would have required girls 17 and younger to
obtain a parent's or judge's permission to have an abortion.
former Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas, the high court had upheld the law but the
court decided to reconsider the case. Anti-abortion advocates publicly
threatened to mount an effort to recall the justices if they struck the law
court, in an opinion by George, decided by a 4-3 vote that the law violated
privacy guarantees in the state Constitution.
spokesman for the anti-retention campaign, assails George and Chin as
"liberal activist judges," a label that probably would astonish
liberals who follow the court.
justices were appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson and are moderate-to-conservative
Republicans who vote to uphold most death sentences and usually side with
prosecutors in criminal cases. Both are former prosecutors who were appointed
to lower-court positions by former Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican.
has moved the court in a more centrist direction since Wilson elevated him to
chief justice in 1996. Albeit still generally conservative, the court during
the past two years has been more willing to rule for workers, victims of
discrimination and other plaintiffs in civil cases.
George is probably at the court's center, Chin is to the right of him. Both
justices are independent and sometimes difficult to predict. A state bar
judicial evaluation committee rated them exceptionally well-qualified, the
highest ranking a justice can obtain for the post.
Stanley Mosk, 86, and Janice Rogers Brown, 49, also will appear on the ballot,
but neither faces opposition or has campaigned. Both voted to uphold the
parental consent law.
is the only Democrat and the most liberal justice on the court, although he
also has written some of the court's more conservative rulings in high-profile
cases. He is one of court's prolific writers of opinions.
is the court's most conservative judge. Wilson appointed her to the Supreme
Court in 1996.
state judiciary and bar, worried by what they see as an attack on judicial
independence, have embraced George and Chin. So too have some of those who
spearheaded the opposition to Rose Bird and her colleagues, including
to save their seats, both justices have hired experienced campaign operatives
who have produced literature that highlights their conservative credentials as
much as their independence.
has raised $601,000 from businesses, attorneys and judges, and Chin has
collected $572,000 from lawyers, judges and other Asian Americans. Both
jurists said they have returned contributions from lawyers or litigants with
cases before the court.
contrast, the committee to remove George and Chin has raised only about
$20,000 and an $8,000 nonmonetary contribution of radio advertisements.
a leaflet designed to deflect opposition from the most conservative wing of
the Republican Party, George's campaign boasted that he is "a strong
supporter of the death penalty" who has "overturned liberal
decisions by Rose Bird" and closed "loopholes exposed by criminal
the leaflet accurately reflects George's rulings, it leaves the impression
that he is an ideological conservative, which he is not, and it offended some
liberals. One of Chin's campaign documents begins with a recitation of cases
in which he supported the death penalty.
the meantime, the judicial anxiety goes beyond the Supreme Court justices to
encompass many on the Court of Appeal, as well. In Los Angeles, appeal court
jurists have raised $200,000 even though they face no organized opposition.
incident that sparked concern was a survey from the Anaheim-based Traditional
Values Coalition, which represents conservative Christian causes.
survey, mailed to all of the Court of Appeal justices who will appear on the
ballot next month asked, among other questions: Were you ever a member of the
American Civil Liberties Union?
justices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ventura and San Jose declined to
respond. The justices who did respond are listed on a voter guide distributed
to 1.5 million Californians. They all expressed conservative sentiments.
Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the coalition, said he was surprised that
so many justices declined to answer.
some judges argue that such questions are inappropriate, noting that judges
are supposed to be able to put aside personal positions and are bound by
the Supreme Court says the sky is green today--and even though I look out and
the see the sky is blue--I enforce the green law," Poche said.
to this story was Times researcher Norma Kaufman.
TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Position: Chief justice of California.
Education: Stanford Law School, 1964. Graduated 1961 from Woodrow Wilson
School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University.
Career highlights: Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991 by Gov. Pete Wilson
and elevated to chief justice in 1996. Deputy state attorney general. Named to
L.A. County Municipal Court by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1972. Elevated to L.A.
County Superior Court by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1977. Served as president
of California Judges Assn., 1982-83. Named to state Court of Appeal by Gov.
George Deukmejian in 1987.
Position: Associate justice, California Supreme Court.
Education: UCLA School of Law, 1977. Graduated in 1974 with bachelor's in
economics, Cal State Sacramento.
Career highlights: Appointed to California Supreme Court by Wilson, 1996.
Deputy attorney general, state Department of Justice, 1979-87. Deputy
secretary and general counsel, California Business, Transportation and Housing
Agency, 1987-89. Private practice in Sacramento with the law firm of Nielsen,
Merksamer, 1989-91. Legal affairs secretary in Wilson's Cabinet, 1991-94.
Appointed an associate justice of state Court of Appeal by Wilson, 1994.
Position: Associate justice, California Supreme Court.
Education: University of San Francisco School of Law, 1967. In 1964, completed
undergraduate studies UC San Francisco in political science.
Career highlights: Appointed to the California Supreme Court by Wilson in
1996. Deputy district attorney, Alameda County, 1970. Appointed by Deukmejian
to Alameda County Superior Court, 1988. Named by Deukmejian to 1st District
Court of Appeal, 1990.
Position: Associate justice, California Supreme Court.
Education: Southwestern University School of Law, 1935. University of Chicago,
Career highlights: Appointed to California Supreme Court, 1964, by Gov. Edmund
G. Brown Sr. Legal assistant to governor of California, 1939-43. Judge,
Superior Court, Los Angeles, 1943-1958. Pro temp justice Court of Appeal,
1954. Attorney general of California, 1959-64.