(originally posted at Fair and Unbalanced)
The last time Jerry Brown was Governor he nominated Rose Bird, Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso to the California Supreme Court. These three smart, principled, liberal-minded justices were recalled by the voters in November 1986, in a nasty campaign exploiting their votes reversing death sentences, funded by business interests who disagreed with their pro-labor, pro-consumer decisions. The Court has never been the same. A liberal court became a conservative one overnight.
A string of conservative Governors appointed a string of conservative justices. There is not one justice on the current Court appointed by a Democrat. (Carlos Moreno, appointed by Democrat Gray Davis recently stepped down, leaving a vacancy on the bench.) At least with regard to criminal justice, the Court’s near unanimity favoring the prosecution over the rights of criminal defendants in virtually every case, particularly in death penalty cases, has cemented their reputation as the most reactionary state court in the country.
Jerry Brown has just nominated Goodwin Liu to replace Moreno and thus, begin the process of providing some badly needed balance to the Court. Liu was nominated by President Obama to sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, but he was successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans. I’ve previously written about what a wonderful addition Liu would have been to the federal bench and how infuriating it was that he couldn’t get past the Senate. (See Tit for Tat; Courting Failure.)
By all accounts Goodwin Liu has a brilliant legal mind. He is a law professor at Berkeley, a Yale Law School graduate and a Rhodes Scholar. The American Bar Association gave Liu its highest possible rating. He also has been endorsed by liberals and conservative legal alike.
Liu will be the one bright spot on a very dismal Court. Hopefully he can disrupt the echo chamber effect caused by having a Court that has consisted solely of like-minded conservatives. And hopefully Jerry Brown will get the opportunity for more judicial appointments.