Supreme Court of California
The Supreme Court of California is the highest state court in California. It is headquartered in San Francisco and regularly holds sessions in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Its decisions are binding on all other California state courts.

Under the original 1849 California Constitution, the Court started with a Chief Justice and two Associate Justices. The court was expanded to five justices in 1862. Under the current 1879 constitution, the Court expanded to six Associate Justices and one Chief Justice, for the current total of seven. The justices are appointed to 12-year terms by the Governor of California and are subject to retention elections by the voters.

According to the California Constitution, to be considered for an appointment, a person must be an attorney admitted to practice in California or have served as a judge of a California court for 10 years immediately preceding the appointment.

Retention votes
After justices are appointed, they are subject to a retention vote at the next general election, and thereafter at 12-year intervals. The electorate has occasionally exercised the power not to retain justices. Chief Justice Rose Bird and Associate Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin were staunchly opposed to capital punishment and were subsequently removed in the 1986 general election. Newly reelected Governor George Deukmejian was then able to elevate Associate Justice Malcolm M. Lucas to Chief Justice and appoint three new conservative associate justices (one to replace Lucas in his old post and two to replace Reynoso and Grodin).

Current membership
The following table lists the current justices; there is one vacancy on the court.

All six current justices were appointed by Republicans. There is one Filipino-American justice (Cantil-Sakauye), one Eurasian-American justice (Kennard - Dutch father, Chinese mother), one East Asian-American justice (Chin), and three European-American justices (Baxter, Corrigan, and Werdegar). Kennard is the only justice with a visible physical disability; she has an artificial leg. The justices do not publicly discuss their religious views or affiliations. There are four female justices (Cantil-Sakauye, Kennard, Werdegar, and Corrigan) and two male justices (Baxter and Chin).

Between 1879 and 1966, the court was divided into two three-justice panels, Department One and Department Two. The Chief Justice divided cases evenly between the panels and also decided which cases would be heard en banc by the Court sitting as a whole. After a constitutional amendment in 1966, the Court currently sits as a whole (all seven together) when hearing all appeals. When there is an open seat on the court, or if a justice recuses himself or herself on a given case, justices from the California Courts of Appeal are assigned by the Chief Justice to join the court for individual cases on a rotational basis. The procedure for when all justices recuse themselves from a case has varied over time. For a 1992 case, the Chief Justice requested the presiding justice of a Court of Appeal district (different from the one where the case originated) to select six other Court of Appeal justices from his or her district, and they formed an "acting" Supreme Court for the purpose of deciding that one case. However, in a more recent case where all members of the Court recused themselves when Governor Schwarzenegger sought a writ of mandate from the Supreme Court ( Schwarzenegger v. Court of Appeal (Epstein)), seven justices of the Courts of Appeal were selected, but not from the same district, with the most senior one serving as the acting chief justice, and that acting supreme court eventually denied the writ petition.


The Court has exclusive and direct appellate jurisdiction in all California state death penalty cases, although it has sponsored a state constitutional amendment to allow it to assign death penalty appeals to the California Courts of Appeal. It has discretionary appellate jurisdiction over all cases reviewed by the Courts of Appeal; the latter were created by a 1904 constitutional amendment to relieve the Supreme Court of most of its workload, so the Court could then focus on dealing with non-frivolous appeals that actually involved important issues of law.

The Court is open for business year-round (as opposed to operating only during scheduled "terms" as is customary in some eastern U.S. states). The Court hears oral argument at least one week per month, ten months each year (the exceptions are July and August). Since 1874, it has regularly heard oral argument each year at San Francisco (four months), Los Angeles (four months), and Sacramento (two months). Throughout the year (including July and August), the Justices have a conference every Wednesday the Court is not hearing oral argument, with the exception of the last week, respectively, of November and December (Thanksgiving and New Year's). New opinions are published online on Monday and Thursday mornings at 10 a.m. Paper copies also become available through the clerk's office at that time. The Court is one of the few U.S. courts apart from the U.S. Supreme Court that enjoys the privilege of having its opinions routinely published in three hardcover reporters. The Court's Reporter of Decisions contracts with a private publisher (currently LexisNexis) to publish the official reporter, California Reports, now in its fourth series; note that the series number changes whenever the publisher changes. West publishes California decisions in both the California Reporter (in its second series) and the Pacific Reporter (in its third series). (The New York Court of Appeals opinions are similarly published in three reporters.) Since the late 1980s, the Court has turned away from the traditional use of law clerks, and has switched to permanent staff attorneys. The Court has about 85 staff attorneys, some of whom are attached to particular justices; the rest are shared as a central staff. The advantage to this system is that the reduced turnover of staff attorneys (versus the traditional system of rotating through new law clerks every year) has improved the efficiency of the court in dealing with complex cases, particularly death penalty cases. During its first half-century of operation, the Court struggled to keep up with its soaring caseload and very frequently fell behind, until the California Courts of Appeal were created in 1904. This resulted in provisions in the 1879 state constitution forcing the Court to decide all cases in writing with reasons given (to get rid of minor cases, it had often given summary dispositions with no reasons given) and requiring California judges to certify in writing every month that no matter submitted for consideration had been outstanding for more than 90 days, or else they will not be paid. To comply with the latter provision, the Court simply does not schedule oral argument until the Justices have already studied the briefs, formulated their respective positions, and circulated draft opinions. Then, after the matter is formally "argued and submitted", the Justices can polish and release their opinions well before reaching the 90-day deadline. This differs sharply from the practice in all other federal and state appellate courts, where judges can schedule oral argument not long after written briefing is finished, but then may take up to a year after oral argument to release opinions.

Ancillary responsibilities
The Supreme Court supervises the lower courts (including the trial-level Superior Courts of California) through the Judicial Council of California, and also supervises California's legal profession through the State Bar of California. All lawyer admissions and disbarments are done through recommendations of the State Bar, which then must be ratified by the Supreme Court. California's bar is the largest in the U.S. with 210,000 members, of whom 160,000 are practicing.

As the Wall Street Journal explained in 1972:

Statistical analyses conducted by LexisNexis personnel at the Court's request indicate that the decisions of the Supreme Court of California are by far the most followed of any state supreme court in the United States. Between 1940 and 2005, 1,260 decisions of the Court were expressly followed by out-of-state courts (meaning that those courts expressly found the Court's reasoning persuasive and applied it to the cases before them). Many important legal concepts have been pioneered or developed by the Court, including strict liability for defective products, fair procedure, negligent infliction of emotional distress, palimony, insurance bad faith, wrongful life, and market-share liability. The California Supreme Court and all lower California state courts use a different writing style and citation system from the federal courts and many other state courts. California citations have the year between the names of the parties and the reference to the case reporter, as opposed to the national standard (the Bluebook) of putting the year at the end. For example, the famous case Marvin v. Marvin , which established the standard for non-marital partners' ability to sue for their contributions to the partnership, is rendered Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660 in California style, while it would be Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660, 557 P.2d 106, 134 Cal. Rptr. 815 (1976), in Bluebook style. The California citation style, however, has always been the norm of common law jurisdictions outside the United States, including England, Canada and Australia. While the U.S. Supreme Court justices indicate the author of an opinion and who has "joined" the opinion at the start of the opinion, California justices always sign a majority opinion at the end, followed by "WE CONCUR," and then the names of the joining justices. California judges are traditionally not supposed to use certain ungrammatical terms in their opinions, which has led to embarrassing fights between judges and the editor of the state's official reporters. California has traditionally avoided the use of certain French and Latin phrases like en banc , certiorari , and mandamus , so California judges and attorneys write "in bank," "review," and "mandate" instead. Finally, the California Supreme Court has the power to "depublish" opinions by the Courts of Appeal (as opposed to the federal practice of not publishing certain "unpublished" opinions at all in the federal case reporters). This means that even though the opinion has already been published in the official state reporters, it will be binding only upon the parties. Stare decisis does not apply, and any new rules articulated will not be applied in future cases. Similarly, the California Supreme Court has the power to "publish" opinions by the California Courts of Appeal which were initially not published.

Important cases
As noted above, the Court has handed down many important and influential decisions, of which some are listed below. Most of the decisions listed below were landmark decisions that were the first such decisions in the U.S. or the world. In Houston v. Williams, an important early case about the separation of powers under state constitutions, the already-overworked Court overruled as unconstitutional a statute directing the Court to give the reasons for its decisions in writing. This resulted in the aforementioned clause in the 1879 state constitution requiring the Court to decide all cases in writing with reasons stated. In Bernhard v. Bank of America , the Court held that collateral estoppel could apply in favor of a party who was not involved in a prior action. In Escola v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. , then-Associate Justice Roger Traynor suggested in a now-famous concurring opinion that the Court should dispose of legal fictions like warranties and impose strict liability for defective products as a matter of public policy. In Perez v. Sharp , the Court overturned the statutory ban on interracial marriage as unconstitutional. Perez directly influenced the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on this issue, Loving v. Virginia (1967). In Sei Fujii v. California , the Court invalidated the California Alien Land Law of 1913 as unconstitutional. In De Burgh v. De Burgh , the Court abolished the defense of recrimination in divorce cases. In Comunale v. Traders & General Ins. Co. , the Court created the modern tort of insurance bad faith, or in more formal terms, the tort of breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the context of insurance policies. In Drennan v. Star Paving Co. , Justice Traynor wrote a majority opinion adopting the then-emerging doctrine of promissory estoppel as an alternative to breach of contract where a contract had never actually been formed. In Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. , Justice Traynor wrote a majority opinion adopting the rule of strict liability for defective products he had suggested 19 years earlier. Since then, strict liability for defective products has been adopted (in varying forms) in nearly all U.S. states, Australia, Japan, and the European Union. In Seely v. White Motor Co. , the Court created the economic loss rule, under which strict liability for defective products is unavailable when the defect causes purely economic damage; that is, such liability is available only for physical injuries to human beings. In Dillon v. Legg , the Court radically expanded the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress beyond its traditional form, which historically had been limited to plaintiffs standing in the same "zone of danger" as a relative who was killed. In Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. G. W. Thomas Drayage Co , the Court held that extrinsic evidence of trade usage or custom is admissible to determine whether a facially clear contract is actually ambiguous, thus necessitating the use of extrinsic evidence to determine its actual meaning. The complex two-step test set forth in Pacific Gas and Electric has been heavily criticized for severely undermining the parol evidence rule, but is still the law in California. In Rowland v. Christian , the Court abolished the old distinctions between different types of persons entering land and imposed a general duty of care in the context of the tort of negligence. In People v. Anderson , the Court relied upon the state constitutional clause prohibiting "cruel or unusual punishment" (note the difference from the federal Constitution's "cruel and unusual punishment" clause) to abolish capital punishment in California. The state electorate promptly overruled Anderson that same year with a popular initiative, Proposition 17, that kept the "cruel or unusual" clause but declared the death penalty to be neither cruel nor unusual. In Gruenberg v. Aetna Ins. Co. , the Court dramatically expanded insurance bad faith from its original home in third-party insurance to cover first-party insurance as well. Insurers and insurance of all types in California were now subject to the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In Li v. Yellow Cab Co. , the Court embraced comparative negligence as part of California tort law and rejected strict contributory negligence. In Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California , the Court held that mental health professionals have a duty to protect individuals who are being threatened with bodily harm by a patient. The original 1974 decision mandated warning the threatened individual, but a 1976 rehearing resulted in a decision calling for a "duty to protect" the intended victim, which did not necessarily require that a potential victim be informed of the threat. In Marvin v. Marvin , the Court ruled in favor of the enforceability of non-marital relationship contracts, express or implied, to the extent that they are not founded purely upon meretricious sexual services. In other words, even though California does not recognize common law marriage, persons who cohabit for long periods of time and commingle their assets are allowed to plead and prove marriage-like contracts for support and division of property. In People v. Wheeler , the Court held that it was a violation of the federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury for a prosecutor to select a jury in a racially biased manner. The holding of Wheeler became the law of the land in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Batson v. Kentucky (1986). In Royal Globe Ins. Co. v. Superior Court , the Court found an implied private right of action to enforce a key provision of the state Unfair Practices Act, California Insurance Code Section 790.03, even though the statute lacked an express private right of action. This highly controversial decision authorized insurance policyholders to sue insurance companies for any violation of the claims handling statutes or regulations, no matter how minor or technical. In response to the inevitable explosion of frivolous lawsuits against insurers which flooded California state courts during the 1980s, the American insurance industry joined forces with death penalty supporters and backed their successful effort to eject Chief Justice Rose Bird and two allies from the Court in 1986. In Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center , the Court found that the broad right to freedom of speech in the state constitution included an implied right to freedom of speech in private shopping centers. The U.S. Supreme Court in turn held that the state supreme court's decision did not amount to a "taking" of the shopping center under federal constitutional law. In Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories , the Court imposed market share liability on the makers of fungible hazardous products. In Turpin v. Sortini , the Court became the first state supreme court to allow a cause of action for wrongful life. In Moradi-Shalal v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Companies , the Court overruled its controversial decision in Royal Globe and held that there was no implied private right of action to enforce the Unfair Practices Act against insurance companies. This restored the pre- Royal Globe status quo, so that only the state Insurance Commissioner had the power to go after insurance companies for minor claims handling problems. However, policyholders were not left totally helpless, since insurance companies who committed egregious claims handling violations could still be sued for breach of contract or insurance bad faith. In Foley v. Interactive Data Corp. , the Court limited tort liability for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing to the insurance context and refused to apply it to an employer. In Thing v. La Chusa , the Court withdrew from the expansive form of NIED set forth in Dillon and imposed a rigid bright-line test for recovery in bystander NIED cases. The Thing decision included extensive dicta hostile to plaintiffs which more generally limited the scope of recovery for both the tort of negligence and emotional distress damages in California. In Moore v. Regents of the University of California , the Court held that patients do not have intellectual property rights in profits from medical discoveries made with their body parts. In American Acad. of Pediatrics v. Lungren , the Court struck down a law requiring parental consent for abortions requested by and performed on minors. Chief Justice George, in an plurality opinion joined by Justices Chin and Werdegar, stated that the parental consent law violated privacy protections that were voted into the state Constitution in 1972. Justice Kennard concurred as to disposition and wrote a separate concurring opinion mostly agreeing with the plurality opinion by Chief Justice George. Justices Mosk, Baxter, and Brown all dissented in separate opinions. In Temple Community Hospital v. Superior Court , the Court declined to allow a tort cause of action against a nonparty to a lawsuit for intentional spoliation of evidence that could have been relevant to the lawsuit. In In re Marriage of Bonds , the Court held that Barry Bonds' premarital agreement was enforceable and valid. In In re Marriage Cases , the Court held that sexual orientation is a protected class which requires strict scrutiny and under such scrutiny, laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional under the state constitution. The state electorate promptly overruled the decision that same year by enacting a popular initiative, Proposition 8.

Notable past justices
  • Serranus Clinton Hastings, Chief Justice (1850”“1852) (First Chief Justice, founded Hastings College of the Law)
  • Solomon Heydenfeldt, Associate Justice (1852”“1857) (First Jewish justice to be elected by direct vote of the people)
  • David S. Terry, Chief Justice (1857”“1859) (Attempted to assassinate his successor, Stephen Field)
  • Stephen J. Field, Chief Justice (1859”“1863) (Appointed by President Lincoln to the U.S. Supreme Court)
  • Addison Niles, Associate Justice (1872”“1880)
  • Curtis D. Wilbur, Chief Justice (1923”“1924) (Appointed by President Coolidge as U.S. Secretary of the Navy)
  • Mathew Tobriner, Associate Justice (1962”“1982)
  • Roger J. Traynor, Chief Justice (1964”“1970), Associate Justice (1940”“1964) (Well-respected legal scholar; generally regarded as the greatest justice in the history of the Court)
  • Stanley Mosk, Associate Justice (1964”“2001) (Longest serving justice)
  • Wiley W. Manuel, Associate Justice (1977”“1981) (First African-American on the Court; well-known for his pro bono work)
  • Rose E. Bird, Chief Justice (1977”“1987) (First woman appointed to the Court; only Chief Justice ever not to be retained by the electorate)
  • Allen Broussard, Associate Justice (1981”“1991)
  • Cruz Reynoso, Associate Justice (1982”“1987) (First Latino on the Court)
  • Janice Rogers Brown, Associate Justice (1996”“2005) (Appointed by President G.W. Bush to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals)
  • Ronald M. George, Chief Justice (1996-2011), Associate Justice (1991-1996)

List of Chief Justices

Position Name Born Appt. by Took office Prior positions Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye 01959-10-19 October 19, 1959 (age &000000000000005100000051) Schwarzenegger January 3, 2011 California Court of Appeal (2005”“2011); Sacramento County Superior Court (1997”“2005); Sacramento Municipal Court (1990”“1997); Deputy Legislative Secretary (1989”“1990); Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary (1988”“1989); Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney (1984”“1988). Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard 01941-05-06 May 6, 1941 (age &000000000000006900000069) Deukmejian April 5, 1989 California Court of Appeal (1988”“1989); Los Angeles County Superior Court (1987”“1988); Los Angeles Municipal Court (1986”“1987). Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter 01940-01-09 January 9, 1940 (age &000000000000007100000071) Deukmejian January 3, 1991 California Court of Appeal (1988”“1991); Appointments Secretary (1983”“1988). Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar 01936-04-05 April 5, 1936 (age &000000000000007400000074) Wilson May 3, 1994 United States Department of Justice; Director, Criminal Law Division, California Bar Continuting Education; Senior Staff Attorney, Supreme Court of California. Associate Justice Ming Chin 01942-08-31 August 31, 1942 (age &000000000000006800000068) Wilson March 1, 1996 California Court of Appeal (1990”“1996); Alameda County Superior Court (1990). Associate Justice Carol Corrigan 01948-08-16 August 16, 1948 (age &000000000000006200000062) Schwarzenegger January 4, 2006 California Court of Appeal (1994”“2006); Alameda County Superior Court (1990”“1994). “ The state's high court over the past 20 years has won a reputation as perhaps the most innovative of the state judiciaries, setting precedents in areas of criminal justice, civil liberties, racial integration, and consumer protection that heavily influence other states and the federal bench. ” # Name Term 1 Serranus Clinton Hastings (1850”“1852) 2 Henry A. Lyons (1852) 3 Hugh C. Murray (1852”“1857) 4 David S. Terry (1857”“1859) 5 Stephen J. Field (1859”“1863) 6 W.W. Cope (1863”“1864) 7 Silas W. Sanderson (1864”“1866) 8 John Currey (1866”“1868) 9 Lorenzo Sawyer (1868”“1870) 10 Augustus L. Rhodes (1870”“1872) 11 Royal T. Sprague (1872) 12 William T. Wallace (1872”“1879) 13 Robert F. Morrison (1879”“1887) 14 Niles Searls (1887”“1889) 15 William H. Beatty (1889”“1914) 16 Matt I. Sullivan (1914”“1915) 17 Frank M. Angellotti (1915”“1921) 18 Lucien Shaw (1921”“1923) 19 Curtis D. Wilbur (1923”“1924) 20 Louis W. Myers (1924”“1926) 21 William H. Waste (1926”“1940) 22 Phil S. Gibson (1940”“1964) 23 Roger J. Traynor (1964”“1970) 24 Donald R. Wright (1970”“1977) 25 Rose Elizabeth Bird (1977”“1987) 26 Malcolm M. Lucas (1987”“1996) 27 Ronald M. George (1996”“2011) 28 Tani Cantil-Sakauye (2011”“present)

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