California Supreme Court justices are appointed, not elected. Still, under the state’s system for maximizing oversight while minimizing political pressure, the voters get a yes-or-no vote every 12 years on whether a justice should be retained.
This year, three high court justices will be on the ballot. Two are relatively new appointees of Gov. Jerry Brown who, by law, must undergo an initial retention vote in the first gubernatorial election after their appointment.
The third is a veteran justice who was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, retained once by voters and is up for approval again.
All come with solid credentials and all deserve a thumbs up from voters.
Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, 42, a Mexican-born Stanford law professor who crossed the Rio Grande as a child and later moved to California with his family, was nominated this year by the governor and unanimously confirmed by a three-member state commission.
If approved by voters, Cuéllar will take office in January, replacing Justice Marvin Baxter, who is stepping down after 24 years on the high court. He has no judicial experience, a downside. But he is steeped in the law.
A U.S. citizen, with degrees from Harvard, Yale and Stanford, Cuéllar has served in the Obama administration in influential positions, working on policy issues from “don’t ask, don’t tell” to international refugee camps.
Also up for an initial retention vote is Justice Goodwin Liu, 43, who was appointed by Brown and confirmed in 2011. Liu, who is serving on the court, also comes out of academia, in this case U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school.
Before Liu joined the court, voters might have known him as the liberal who was nominated to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Barack Obama and filibustered by Republicans in the U.S. Senate until he withdrew his name from consideration.
Liu may be left-leaning on social issues, but calls them as he sees them. Most recently, he incurred liberal wrath with an opinion that blocked an advisory ballot measure aimed at the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling on campaign finance. He had no judicial experience before being appointed, but has shown himself to be more than able.
Similarly independent is Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, 78, who has served on the high court since 1994. Though appointed by a Republican governor, she has had a center-left record of rulings. Voters rewarded her in 2002 with retention, and should do it again.