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Supreme Court Vacancy Stirs Concerns

By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 03, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gov. Jerry Brown has been called a "judicial trailblazer" because of his groundbreaking appointments, including the nation's first openly gay and lesbian judges.

And either Judge Jim Humes or Judge Therese Stewart, both of California's First District Court of Appeal, could become the first gay or lesbian justice on the California Supreme Court. There is a vacancy, and potential candidates are waiting.

But it has been almost 10 months since the opportunity presented itself, and the governor seems to be lost in the woods. At least, California is getting restless.

Judicial Trailblazing

Brown has taken his time with this Supreme Court appointment, even as he named 33 judges to trial courts and two others to appeals courts in December. The last time he took this long to choose a Supreme Court nominee, he waited nine months -- the longest vacancy in the high court's history.

Kathryn Werdegar, who announced her retirement last March and stepped down in August, said she wanted to give the governor time to name a replacement.

"I share the general bafflement as to what the delay has been," she told the Associated Press.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the prolonged vacancy has caused problems at the court. She said the six justices have divided up the workload and are putting off action on deadlocked cases.

It is a critical time at the court politically because the justices are evenly divided: three Republican and three Democrat appointees. The next one will change a balance that had been in place since 1986.

Diversity of the Court

That's when voters removed Chief Justice Rose Bird and Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin -- all Brown appointees during his first gubernatorial administration. With his next appointment, he can solidify another voting block -- albeit as diverse as a court gets.

In 2011, Brown nominated Goodwin Liu. In 2014, he nominated Mariano Florentino-Cuellar and Leondra Kruger. They each come from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Women currently outnumber men -- four to two -- on the high court bench. Second only to Wisconsin, it is one of the only state supreme courts with a majority of female justices in the nation.

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