After Brett Kavanaugh’s sordid confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court in September, the nation was reminded of how important lifetime judicial appointments really are.
On Tuesday, California voters have a rare chance to retain or remove judges appointed to state courts — some of whom have issued dozens of rulings over their years on the bench. In a midterm ballot packed with propositions and high-profile races, San Franciscans also have 10 judicial records to, well, judge for themselves, with a simple yes-or-no vote.
Judges on the California Supreme Court and Court of Appeals face a second confirmation during the first gubernatorial election after their appointment and once again every 12 years.
Mainstream sources that included judges in their endorsements, such as the Los Angeles Times, tend to recommend voting yes to retain each of them. As with the June recall of Judge Aaron Persky, the debate centers on the need to preserve judicial independence from the backlash of an unpopular opinion, except in cases where judges are no longer deemed fit to serve. (As Santa Clara County Superior Court judge in 2016, Persky sentenced Stanford University student Brock Turner to only six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.)
California’s process to keep judges in check can devolve into a partisan campaign. In 1986, voters removed then-Chief Justice Rose Bird and two other justices who Jerry Brown appointed to the California Supreme Court during his first stint as governor. That vote cleared the way for newly re-elected Republican Gov. George Deukmejian to appoint more conservative successors.
Other groups, such as the San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters, aren’t taking chances. They recommend rejecting state Supreme Court Associate Justice Carol Corrigan along with three associate justices on the Court of Appeals: Sandra Margulies, James Richman, and Marla Miller.
Corrigan has received the most attention for opposing the right to same-sex marriage in 2008, when her dissent called for the political process and not the judiciary to expand rights she personally espoused.
Corrigan, who was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and fellow associate justice Leondra Kruger, a Brown appointee, have been known to take a middle line on most cases and appear nonpartisan. Activists have targeted Richman for ruling against protecting public-worker pensions in 2017, countering past rulings by arguing that they can be altered for current employees as long as they remain “reasonable” pensions.
San Francisco voters with rent on their minds may take more interest in Miller. In June, she voted with the rest of the panel against a 2013 ordinance that required landlords to wait 10 years before rebuilding or renovating units with Ellis Act evictions.
Miller also signed a 2016 decision lacking legal citations that undid a lower court ruling to mandate the Governor’s Office to release emails related to the California Public Utilities Commission’s role in the San Onofre nuclear plant failures. The emails — eventually ordered to be released — involved Brown, who appointed Miller.
These cases provide merely a snapshot into the judges’ track records. But if the lack of control over judges who make lasting decisions has you down, Tuesday is the only chance to assess this slate for another 12 years.
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