California Supreme Court

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California Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Founded:   1849
Chief:  $232,060
Associates:  $221,292
Judicial selection
Method:   Gubernatorial appointment of judges
Term:   12 years
Active justices

Kathryn Mickle Werdegar  •  Ming Chin  •  Carol Corrigan  •  Goodwin Liu  •  Tani Cantil-Sakauye  •  Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar  •  Leondra Kruger  •  

Seal of California.png

Founded in 1849, the California Supreme Court is the state's court of last resort. The court is composed of a chief justice and six associate justices, who are appointed by the governor to 12-year terms. Appointments must be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The court has jurisdiction to review any ruling of the California Courts of Appeal, and also handles misconduct cases and discipline of state attorneys and judges.[1]


The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Associate justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar1994-2027Gov. Pete Wilson (R)
Associate justice Ming Chin1996-2023Gov. Pete Wilson (R)
Associate justice Carol Corrigan2006-2018Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)
Justice Goodwin Liu2011-1/3/2027Gov. Jerry Brown (D)
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye2010-2020Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)
Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar1/4/2015-1/3/2027Gov. Jerry Brown (D)
Justice Leondra Kruger1/2015-2018Gov. Jerry Brown (D)

Judicial selection

See also: Judicial selection in California

Justices of the California Supreme Court are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The appointment of a justice must be confirmed via retention referendum at the next gubernatorial election. Incumbent justices stand for retention at the end of their 12-year terms.[2]


To be considered as a candidate for an appointment a person must:

  • Be an attorney admitted to practice law in California for the last ten years
  • Or have served as a judge of a California court for the last ten years[2]

Chief justice

The position of chief justice is selected in the same way justices are chosen: appointment from the governor and confirmation of the Commission on Judicial Appointments.[3]


The California Constitution gives the supreme court jurisdiction in mandamus, certiorari, habeas corpus and prohibition cases. The California Supreme Court chooses cases that address legal issues that are relevant and significant across the state. The court has appellate jurisdiction to review parts of or entire cases brought before the California Courts of Appeal or any ruling that results in a judgement of death. The court also reviews the recommendations from the Commission on Judicial Performance and from the California State Bar for misconduct and disciplinary hearings. The Public Utilities Commission is the only entity that appeals directly to the supreme court.[2][1]

Justices of the California Supreme Court


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 * *
2013 7,813 8,269
2012 9,237 9,739
2011 10,145 10,063
2010 9,562 9,439
2009 9,274 9,513
2008 10,521 10,440
2007 8,988 9,247


  • California has not yet released its statistics for fiscal year 2014.



JudgeElection Vote
CuéllarMariano-Florentino Cuéllar 67.7% ApprovedA
LiuGoodwin Liu 67.1% ApprovedA
WerdegarKathryn Mickle Werdegar 72.6% ApprovedA

Justice Werdegar, 78 at the time, was retained along with Justice Liu, who was 44 at the time of the election. Liu was appointed in 2011 and won his first full term in 2014.[9][10] Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar was appointed to the court by Governor Jerry Brown in July 2014, and was retained to a full term in November 2014.[11]

See also: California judicial elections, 2014.

Political outlook

See also: Political ideology of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of California was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, California received a score of -0.32. Based on the justices selected, California was the 14th most liberal court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[12]


Judicial conduct

The California Code of Judicial Conduct is composed of six canons:

  1. A judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
  2. A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities.
  3. A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.
  4. A judge shall so conduct the judge’s quasi-judicial and extrajudicial activities as to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial obligations.
  5. A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.
  6. Compliance with the code of judicial ethics.[13][14]

Read the code in its entirety here.

Removal of justices

Justices may be removed in one of three ways:

  • By retention election
  • Impeachment by the state assembly with a two-thirds vote by the state senate
  • Removed by recommendation of the California Commission on Judicial Performance following an investigation of judicial misconduct that gives the commission authority to "admonish, suspend, censure, retire, or remove a judge"[15]

Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. California earned a grade of C in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[16]

Notable cases

A University of California at Davis Study "Followed Rates” and Leading State Cases, 1940-2005, details that many notable California Supreme Court rulings are subsequently followed in other state courts. This study discusses many notable rulings and their successors in other states.


  • 1849: The Constitution of California created the state supreme court with a chief justice and two associate justices who would be elected by a lesislative vote.
  • 1862: With an amendment to the constitution, the court was given jurisdiction to hear a wider variety of cases, and the number of justices was increased to five. Terms of the justices were increased from six to 10 years.
  • 1879: The number of justices was increased to seven, with term limits increased to 12 years.
  • 1926: The Judicial Council of California was established.[19]

Location of the court

Earl Warren Building

The California Supreme Court meets in the Earl Warren Building in San Francisco, California.

The first court convened in San Francisco and remained there until 1854. In that year, legislative mandate required the court to relocate to the to-be-determined state capitol. The court moved to Sacramento in 1855, and returned to San Francisco in the 1870s. In 1874, the state legislature ordered that the court would hear cases for two months of each year in both San Francisco and Sacramento.[19]

Notable firsts

  • 1977: Rose Bird became the first female justice to serve on the court. She was also the court's first female chief justice.[20]
  • 1989: Justice Joyce Kennard was the first Asian-American, and only the second woman, to serve on the court.[21][22]
  • 2010: Tani Cantil-Sakauye became the first non-Caucasian to serve as chief justice of the court.[23]

Former justices

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 California Courts, "About the Supreme Court," accessed December 23, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 California Courts, "Supreme Court of California Booklet," 2007
  3. American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: California," accessed December 23, 2014
  4. California Court System, "2014 Court Statistics Report"
  5. California Court System, "Fiscal Year 2012, Statewide Caseload Trends"
  6. California Court System, "Fiscal Year 2011, Statewide Caseload Trends"
  7. California Court System, "Fiscal Year 2010, Statewide Caseload Trends"
  8. California Court System, "Fiscal Year 2009, Statewide Caseload Trends"(scroll to page 4)
  9. Los Angeles Times, "California Supreme Court headed for change," April 4, 2014
  10. Stanford Law School, "Justice Goodwin Liu," accessed April 22, 2014
  11. California Secretary of State Voter Guide, "Justices of the Supreme Court," accessed August 26, 2014
  12. Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
  13. California Courts, "California Code of Judicial Conduct," accessed December 23, 2014
  14. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  15. American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial selection: Removal of Judges," accessed December 23, 2014
  16. Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
  17. The Los Angeles Times, "Gay marriage ban overturned," May 17, 2008
  18. Huffington Post, "Supreme Court Rules On Prop 8, Lets Gay Marriage Resume In California," June 26, 2013
  19. 19.0 19.1 California Supreme Court Historical Society, "History of the California Supreme Court," accessed December 23, 2014
  20. New York Times, "Rose Bird, Once California's Chief Justice, Is Dead at 63," December 6, 1999
  21. California Courts, "Judge Kennard Official biography," accessed December 23, 2014
  22. Filipino Bar Association of Northern California, "A CELEBRATION OF JUSTICE JOYCE L. KENNARD: TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ON THE CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT," accessed December 23, 2014
  23. Sacramento Bee, "Cantil-Sakauye sworn-in as state Supreme Court chief justice," December 3, 2010
  24. California Courts, "Past & Present Justices," accessed December 23, 2014

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