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Gov. Schwarzenegger nominates first Asian American to lead California Supreme Court [Updated]

Judge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated 3rd District Court of Appeal Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye as the next chief justice Wednesday morning, which would make her the first Asian American to lead the state's judiciary and give the California Supreme Court a female majority for the first time in its history.

Cantil-Sakauye, 50, a Sacramento native who rose through the trial courts, served as deputy legislative secretary and deputy legal affairs secretary under former Gov. George Deukmejian. He plucked her from the Sacramento district attorney's office and later appointed her to the Sacramento Municipal Court.

Former Gov. Pete Wilson named Cantil-Sakauye to the Sacramento County Superior Court, and Schwarzenegger elevated her to the Court of Appeal in Sacramento.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, Schwarzenegger praised Cantil-Sakauye’s “distinguished history of public service.”

“She is a living example of the American dream and when she is confirmed by the voters in November, Judge Cantil-Sakauye will become California’s first Filipina chief justice, adding to our high court’s already rich diversity,” Schwarzenegger said.

A graduate of the UC Davis School of Law, Cantil-Sakauye was a surprise nominee who is relatively unknown outside judicial circles. She has served two years on the state Judicial Council, the policy-making arm of the courts, and if approved by voters in November, will be responsible for the state's entire court system.

According to several biographies, Cantil-Sakauye comes from humble roots. Her Filipina mother was a farmworker, and her Filipino-Portuguese father, born in Hawaii, worked in sugar cane and pineapple plantations before moving to Sacramento. She is a Republican, is married to a Sacramento police lieutenant and has two children.

Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement that it is a “privilege and a tremendous honor” to be asked to serve as chief justice.

“I have had the distinct pleasure of being a municipal court judge, a superior court judge and an appellate court justice,” she said. “As a jurist, woman and a Filipina, I am extremely grateful for the trust Gov. Schwarzenegger has placed in me. I hope to show young people what they can achieve if they follow their dreams and reach for their full potential.”

One California Supreme Court justice who has worked with her on the Judicial Council praised the selection.

“I am very impressed with her, the manner in which she gets to the meat of the coconut on issues” said Justice Marvin Baxter, a conservative member of the state high court. “She knows when to listen and when to talk. She has been very, very effective for a relatively new member of the council.”

He said her judicial rulings reveal her to be “a very independent thinker.”

In one case, Cantil-Sakauye dissented in a ruling that said the city of Sacramento was not liable for an alleged sexual assault by two city firefighters. The alleged assault occurred at a costume ball attended by two firefighters who drove their fire trucks to the event, where the plaintiff said they drank and flirted.

Cantil-Sakauye contended the assault may have been foreseeable.

“[T]here is at least a triable issue of fact whether the assault was fairly attributable to the work conditions under which, allegedly, firefighters were permitted to take trucks to bars, drink and pick up women,” she wrote.

Santa Clara University Law Professor Gerald Uelmen, who examined her appellate rulings, said there was "nothing of consequence that would tell us much about her orientation." He said she probably was chosen for her administrative and lobbying skills, not her judicial writings.

"I really see Ron George's hand in this ... ," Uelmen said. "I don't think it's her reputation as a legal scholar that got her the appointment, but rather her experience in dealing with court administration issues on the Judicial Council and her experience in dealing with the legislature and the governor."

[Updated at 10:50 a.m.: Court of Appeal Justice J. Anthony Kline, a Jerry Brown appointee who serves in San Francisco, praised the selection of Cantil-Sakauye. He said she is considered highly organized, congenial and a fast learner who understands the need for judicial independence.

“My guess is that her values and judicial opinions will be similar to those of Ron George,” said Kline, a liberal Democrat. “I see her as a moderate.”

UC Davis Law School Dean Kevin Johnson said she has “devoted an incredible amount of time” to a campus  program that encourages socially disadvantaged students from low income families to go to law school.

“She is very self made, a hard worker, but I never get the sense of an edge—that I did it, everybody else should be able to do it,” Johnson said. “It is more that she wants to inspire.”

Johnson called her “a careful, thoughtful, very moderate, mainstream jurist” who is “fair but perhaps somewhat conservative” on law and order issues. He predicted she would build coalitions on the seven-member court, which has three justices who are considered conservative and three who are more liberal.]

In addition to her administrative work on the Judicial Council, Cantil-Sakauye has served as president of the Anthony M. Kennedy American Inn of Court, which is dedicated to promoting civility, ethics and professionalism in the law.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who is retiring in January, recently appointed Cantil-Sakauye to head a Judicial Council committee charged with overseeing the operations of the Administrative Office of the Courts, which runs the court system.

Her nomination must be affirmed by a three-member panel headed by George and then by voters in November. Such nominations are usually routinely approved.

-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco

Photo: Judge Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye

Comments () | Archives (22)

Filipinos are NOT Asians! They are Polynesians.

Big difference.

"Filipino-Portuguese father, born in Hawaii, "


Can we close the book on that madness, now?

Lots of beautiful Americans from all different ethnic backgrounds. And all of the same race, the human race. Diversity makes us strong.



Kind of hot.................................SUPER HOT for a judge.

We just watched the GOP fight against having Sotomayor, Kagan and Holder because of the race or religion. Now Arnie appointees an Asian. Remember when an Asian lawyers was among those listed as possible Supreme Court Justice the Republicans/Tea Party/KKK were really angry. As many of the GOP Senators said they want only white males as Judges/Justices.

hell she is a mutmix.......to many last name.......anyway more power to her........go asian,,,asian next president

She's kind hot!

Im happy for her we asians are truly inspired for a filipina to get that far. It only shows that America is the place where you can dream and made it real through perseverance and hardwork. She will be fair with her rulings.

I don't understand why she is not considered a Hispanic or at least Latin American being that she comes from a father with Iberian blood and a mother from a culture that was greatly influenced by an Iberian nation. She also looks like a Mestizo.

Asians are proud of her selection. I have no doubt that she will be fair, reasonable, and objective on judicial issues as a jurist. Perfect selection indeed!

It's about time!

In other words, voters can choose between electing who the status quo grant power to and nominates, or they can vote for the alternative, which is nothing at all?

Way to go Pinay!! You make us all proud!

She is not asian, she is Latin American. Portuguese and Spanish last names with the exception of her husbands hyphenated name. Her father is of Portuguese descent and her Filipina mother comes from a country with great Iberian influence. Filipinos are more western and Iberian influenced than they are Asian.

She even looks like a Mestiza.

She looks like Lisa Ling.

All of the problems of immigration originated because the people of the United States of America did not follow some of the protections found in the 14th Amendment of the U S Constitution. Employers are hiring Mexican illegal immigrants exclusively and our present administration feels deeply about our nation being inclusive. E-Verify is prohibited in Illinois. California for the most part does not use E-Verify, unless you live in Lancaster (Los Angeles county)

Are cougars native to Asia? I like it.

Jackie, where is the evidence that any GOP senator said race, sex or religion was a factor in judicial selection. There is no such evidence because it didn't happen. These should not be factors. The Governor should have picked the best qualified judge, and according to the article, she is an administrator not a scholar.

We wil vote for her.

JP and Jesus: Please stop your mission to spread misinformation. She IS Asian. Filipinos ARE Asian. Just because the Philippines was conquered by Spain for 3 centuries DOES NOT make the country any less of an Asian origin.

Are you telling me now that Vietnam is French? Or Macau is Portuguese? How about India is now British looking? Give me a break.

Jesus: Polynesians are from... get ready... POLYNESIA. The Philippines is in Southeast ASIA. My gosh. Please educate yourselves.


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