Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced on July 21st that the Honorable Tani Cantil-Sakauye was his choice for chief justice of the California Supreme Court. This makes her making her the first Asian American to lead the state’s judiciary and giving the California Supreme Court a female majority for the first time in its history.
“Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has a distinguished history of public service and understands that the role of a justice is not to create law, but to independently and fairly interpret and administer the law,” said Governor Schwarzenegger.
“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.” 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 elevated Cantil-Sakauye to the Sacramento County Superior Court, and Schwarzenegger named her to the Court of Appeal in Sacramento.
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.
In addition to her administrative work on the Judicial Council, she 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.
A profile in Sacramento Lawyer said she was involved in issues affecting minorities during law school. She said her parents taught her that hard work would lead to a good future. During college, she waited tables and later said she earned more money as a waitress than she did in her first year as a lawyer.
The profile said she could not immediately find work as a lawyer and worked as blackjack dealer in Reno. She said the Sacramento public defender would not hire her because she was too young. She took advice from an Asian American judge and applied at the district attorney’s office.
According to another biography, she is active in the Methodist Church, Girl Scouts and an Asian athletic foundation in Sacramento.
Cantil-Sakauye would replace a moderate Republican who tended to side with the court’s liberals on social issues and with the conservatives on law and order. George has often been a swing vote on the court and provided the fourth vote in 2008 to overturn a ban on same-sex marriage. Voters later reinstated the ban.