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Revision as of 08:34, 23 May 2009

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

Rulings relevant to ballot measures

Year Proposition or case Outcome
2009 Proposition 8 Pending
2008 Proposition 22 Prop 22 declared unconstitutional
2007 Fashion Valley Mall v. NLRB Leafletters can distribute leaflets in private malls that oppose the mall/mall owners
1999 State Senate v. Jones Struck Prop 24 from the 2000 ballot for violating Single-subject rule.
1990 Raven v. Deukmejian Struck an initiated constitutional amendment from the ballot on the grounds that it amounted to a revision, not an amendment, of the state's constitution
1979 Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center Petitioners can collect signatures in privately-owned malls (See petitioner access).
1979 People v. Frierson Upheld constitutionality of California Proposition 17 (1972)
1978 Proposition 13 In Amador Valley v. Board of Equalization, upheld constitutionality of Prop 13
1948 McFadden v. Jordan A constitutional amendment with 208 sections addressing retirement pensions, gambling, taxes, oleomargarine, healing arts, civic centers, senate reapportionment, fish and game, and surface mining was an unconstitutional revision


The court consists of one Chief Justice and six Associate Justices who are appointed by the Governor of California for 12-year terms. New justices are subject to a retention vote by the public at the next general election after their appointment, and each 12 years thereafter. The electorate has occasionally exercised the power not to retain justices, removing Chief Justice Rose Bird and Associate Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin in 1986.

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.

The court currently sits as a whole (all seven together) when hearing appeals. When there is an open seat on the court, or if a justice recused himself or herself on a given case, justices from the California Courts of Appeal are assigned to join the court for individual cases, on a rotational basis. Prior to the 1960s, the court reviewed the vast majority of appeals in three-judge panels (like the federal Courts of Appeals).

The court has direct mandatory 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.[1] It has discretionary jurisdiction over all cases reviewed by the Courts of Appeal.

The Chief Justice

Current Chief Justice Ronald George was appointed as the 27th Chief Justice of California on March 28, 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. He was confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments on May 1, 1991, and took his oath the same day.

Ancillary responsibilities

The Supreme Court supervises the lower courts 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 are then routinely ratified by the Supreme Court. California's bar is the largest in the U.S. with 200,000 members, of whom 150,000 are actively practicing.

Political, gender, ethnic and confessional diversity

The Court partially reflects the ethnic and gender diversity of the state it serves, though not its political diversity. There are two Asian-American justices (Chin and Kennard), one Hispanic justice (Moreno), and no African-American justices. The justices also come from different religious backgrounds (principally Roman-Catholic and Protestant denominations) but avoid public mention of matters of personal religion and ethics. This contrasts with the U.S. Supreme Court whose justices do not shy away from the subject of personal religion.

The Court currently has six Republicans (George, Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, and Corrigan) and one Democrat (Moreno), although most of the Republicans tend to be moderate.

Three justices are female (Kennard, Werdegar, and Corrigan). One justice has a physical disability (Kennard).

Reputation and idiosyncrasies

Just as California has become famous worldwide for its innovations in agriculture, technology, and entertainment, its highest court has become famous for its innovations in jurisprudence. As the Wall Street Journal explained in 1972:

This 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.[2]

Also like the state it serves, the Court has a reputation for being unique in various odd ways. Both 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. The most obvious difference is that California citations always 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 [134 Cal.Rptr. 815, 557 P.2d 106] 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 abolished 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).[3] This means that even though the opinion has already been published in the official state reporters, it will be binding only upon the parties.[4] 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.[3]

Current justices

External links



  2. Joann Lublin, "Trailblazing Bench: California High Court Often Points the Way for Judges Elsewhere," Wall Street Journal, 20 July 1972, 1.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1105 (2007).[1]
  4. Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1115 (2007).[2]