Supreme Court of California

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Justices of the Supreme Court of California (circa. May 2005)

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.



The court consists of one Chief Justice and six Associate Justices who are appointed by the Governor of California for 12-year terms. The appointments are confirmed by the public at the next general election. The electorate has occasionally exercised this power to eject unpopular justices like Rose Bird.

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. Prior to the 1960s, the court reviewed the vast majority of appeals in three-judge panels (like the federal Courts of Appeals).

The Chief Justice

Current Chief Justice Ronald M. George was appointed as 27th Chief Justice of California on March 28, 1996 by Governor Pete Wilson. He was confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments on May 1, 1996, 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 195,000 members, of whom 145,000 are actively practicing.

Political, gender, and ethnic diversity

Reflecting the state that it serves, the Court is very diverse. Three justices are female (Brown, Kennard, and Werdegar). As for ethnic diversity, there are two Asian-American justices (Chin and Kennard), one African-American justice (Brown), and one Hispanic justice (Moreno). One justice has a physical disability (Kennard).

The Court currently has 6 Republicans and 1 Democrat, although the Republicans tend to be moderate.

Perhaps the most notable exception is the more conservative Janice Rogers Brown, who has occasionally clashed with the more moderate Chief Justice George and others on the bench. This tendency has gotten her noticed by President George W. Bush, who has nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Democrats have successfully blocked her nomination, along with the nominations of a handful of other Bush nominees that Democrats charge are too conservative.


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 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 of putting the year at the end.

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 and mandamus, so California judges and attorneys write "in bank" and "mandate" instead.

Finally, California courts have the power to "depublish" their opinions (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.

Current justices

Notable past justices

External links


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