Calif. Chief Justice Nominee Will Set Woman-Majority Precedent

The state of California will have its first-ever Asian American chief justice this year if the nomination by the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, goes through as expected. And she will be a woman, tipping the balance of the court to a woman majority for the first time in state history.

Talk about an old gal’s club.

Schwarzenegger has nominated Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a 20-year veteran justice and mother of two, to the highest role in the state’s court system. Legal scholars expect Cantil-Sakauye’s nomination to pass easily through the State Bar and Commission on Judicial Appointments. If all goes well, expect to see her name on the Nov. 2 ballot, where the voters must endorse her.

California may thus be joining the ranks of Tennessee, Wisconsin and Michigan–the only other states with women-in-the-majority top courts. But don’t stop there, California! The Golden State is still sorely lacking in equitable racial representation on its Supreme Court. In a state where more than one third of residents are Latino, the top court includes only a single Hispanic justice. African Americans, who make up nearly seven percent of California’s population, are unrepresented entirely. With the addition of Cantil-Sakauye, the court will boast three Asian American justices, exceeding representation of that group’s population in the state.

Though tokenistic racial representation alone may not improve legal decision making, the representation of a diversity of life experiences most certainly can. A jury of one’s peers must include faces, colors and lives representative of every body passing through a court.

The forthcoming issue of Ms. magazine features a map of the U.S. showing where gavel-wielding women rule the high court. When we went to press, 20 states could boast a woman chief justice; now our map can include California as well. To see the map and more, join the Ms. community today!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons under public domain.


Stephanie hails from Toronto, Canada. She is a Ms. writer, a master of journalism candidate and a hip hop dancer/instructor/choreographer. She got her start in feminist journalism at the age of 16 when she was a member of the first editorial collective at Shameless magazine—and she has never looked back.