California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye spoke to The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board last week. Here’s some of the discussion, edited and condensed:
Q: In your State of the Judiciary speech, you told how your childhood home in Sacramento was razed, and how your mother went on her own to court to try to fight.
A: Yes. We lived in a house in an alley at Third and O, next to a brothel. There would be men who would come up to our fence, and say: “Is this the house?” My mother would come out and say, “Shoo!”
My father had saved some money, and built our house and my grandmother’s home, and a cinderblock studio for my uncle who was a fledgling artist. In those days, it was Chinatown. I grew up in the alley. There were hobos lying in the alley asleep, but we didn’t think anything about it. We saw them all the time. They were harmless.
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What they put in its place were luxury condos. They were new and sparkling in their day. I don’t know you’d call them luxury now.
My mother forced everyone to pitch in, and she put a down payment on a house in Land Park, and we were one of the first ethnic families in Land Park.
Q: The California Supreme Court includes four appointees of Republican governors and three by Jerry Brown, a Democrat. And yet most cases are unanimous, right?
A: We work very carefully and respectfully with one another. We try to accommodate one another. If you have an issue with my analysis, then I am going to work very closely with you to try to get you to agree and sign on if there is something I can accommodate in the language. We’re very fortunate. I know other courts don’t have that.
Q: There could be two competing death penalty initiatives on the November ballot, one to speed it and one to abolish it. What if both fail?
A: If nothing passes, then nothing changes. If nothing changes, we proceed in the way we have been. We would continue to do the best we can now where the Supreme Court devotes 25 percent of its resources to automatic appeals and habeas petitions, which are almost as arduous as the automatic appeal and twice as long.
Each chamber is putting out three to five automatic appeals a year, and none of them are under 100 pages. Those have been years in the making, and there are many more behind them.
Q: What would the court do with the extra time?
A: I don’t think there would be an absence of work.
Q: Do you expect another vacancy on the court?
Q: The California Supreme Court is going to start live streaming oral arguments.
A: Yes. It is very exciting. We started to live stream the Judicial Council. … This is part of our effort to be more accountable and transparent. We hope it will start in May.
Q: Do you have any idea how many people watch Judicial Council?
A: No. (Laughs.) We’re not like Bruno Mars, who gets 1.4 million hits.
Q: What areas of law are emerging?
A: Arbitration and what it means, its reach and impact.
Q: You’re talking about these arbitration agreements we all sign?
A: It is not only that. It’s whether arbitration is delaying the development of the law. Do we want to arbitrate many issues but never have a rule of law that governs a segment of our society or business?
Another area is elder abuse, the Elder Act and the civil remedies that are available that potentially go around MICRA. (California’s medical malpractice law that caps pain and suffering damages at $250,000.) The more we age as a population, there will be more litigation under the Elder Act.
There will be CEQA litigation, and that has to do with building and water and, importantly, the emerging area of greenhouse emissions.
We’re seeing a mix of science and humanity at the Supreme Court.
Q: What do you think of the mess with the U.S. Supreme Court?
A: That mess is symbolic of the relationship with Congress, amongst themselves, and the executive branch.