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Calif. chief justice pick would make history

July 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced his nomination for the next California Chief Justice. He's scheduled to publically introduce her Thursday. Judge Tani Cantil-Sakauye would make history on the high court.If a panel and voters approve of her nomination, 50-year old Tani Cantil-Sakauye would be the first Filipina-American to hold the Chief Justice position on the California Supreme Court, and the first Asian to take on the most powerful role in the state court system.

The rising star would also tilt the balance of the court, giving women the majority for the first time in history.

The moderate Republican is already a justice on the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Sacramento, and has about two decades of experience total on the bench.

Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland serves with her on the 3rd District Court of Appeals.

"She brings a great wisdom, a great depth of knowledge, and a wonderful personality to be, I think, one of the best Chief Justices ever," said Scotland.

Cantil-Sakauye wrote an opinion this year upholding a state law requiring nurses to administer insulin to students, striking down an attempt to allow other trained school staff to do it. She stuck to what the Legislature passed.

"She understands that, as a judge, you might not like a particular result," said Scotland. "You might not think it's a wise result, but it's not a result that you can impose as a judge. There is separation of powers."

But her career is not without controversy.

She does sit on the Judicial Council, which runs California's court system. The group was highly criticized for closing courts to deal with the budget crisis and for rubber-stamping proposals, which Cantil-Sakauye denied earlier this year.

"Everything is vetted. Everything goes out for public comment," said Cantil-Sakauye in February. "We seek public comment on every proposal, every rule, every idea."

By many accounts, Cantil-Sakauye will be of the same mold as the moderate Republican she would be replacing, Ron George.

"She's a centrist. She makes pragmatic decisions," said Dean Johnson, a legal analyst. "She doesn't carry any ideological blinders, and she calls each case as she sees it."

Perhaps her biggest case was in 2001 when she upheld the validity of an arrest warrant for an unnamed person, just someone with a specific genetic code from DNA evidence. The rapist in that case became the first person in the country ever arrested on a DNA warrant.


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